The Risen franchise has survived it's turbulent first launch, and sailed it's way to a sequel, thanks to the support of the PC community and the fact that there is a good solid game here. New IP's are few and far between these days, so it's nice to see the folks at Deep Silver and Piranha Bytes still soldering on. We spoke to one of the game's leading figures to find out more about it:
Strategy Informer:How confident were you guys that would you get a sequel? Especially on the consoles considering that the 360 version of Risen didn't do that well.
Daniel Oberlerchner: Well, the PC version was very very successful, especially in places like Germany and other territories, and the online sales were very good too. I think when you establish a new IP you really have to invest in it - the question was not whether we wanted to go on with it, as that was the plan from the beginning, but it was rather what do we need to do to be successful? It would be not a good idea to exclude console players - so we decided to do it on the 360 properly this time, and while we were at it we could do it on PS3 as well.
Strategy Informer:We understand you've got a studio called Wizarbox - the same people who did the 360 port of the original game - to do the console versions of Risen 2 as well. Are you guys still not that confident with doing console games?
Daniel Oberlerchner: The issue with that is the internal view is different from the external view. When Risen was conceived, it was originally going to be a PC only game, no one wanted to do a console version. But then we were halfway through development and we thought that maybe a console version wouldn't be such a bad idea after all. But if you're familiar with development cycles, then you'll know that by that time we'd already done pre-production: All the interface, all the structure of the game.
So you've got a game with a huge island, no loading zones, dynamic weather, AI like crazy, sound effects... everything a console hates! And then you do a console version. So from our, internal, perspective - and something people on the outside wouldn't necessarily know - Wizarbox did a damn good job considering what they were given. We were lucky to have an Xbox version at all. But people on the outside don't know the difficulty of what is needed, so people on the outside were thinking "oh, Risen is not good enough".
But with Risen 2 you can already see, even in the alpha version, that it's already better - they just needed the right structure in place from the beginning. So for Risen 2 we decided to have multiplayer islands, so that the memory can be flushed when you move from one to the other. The interface will be the same for everyone, as well the controls - with the exception being a "quick wheel" on the console instead of a quick bar.
Strategy Informer:So as far as you guys are concerned then, is the PC platform the 'main' platform for this title?
Daniel Oberlerchner: Well yeah, it's like the origin of the content. But it's funny, because every other studio does it the same - no one really develops a game ON an Xbox - it's not a development platform! So every game out there is basically PC based, so it's a question of how you want to present the game, and what type of entertainment you want to deliver. For the console players, their pattern of how they consume entertainment is different to the PC Player.
The console player normally comes home, like 6 in the evening, and the just want to pop in a disc and play for half an hour. Then they'll have to manage their family, make dinner, maybe even go out or just watch a film or something. The PC gamer has longer gaming hours - sessions are longer - and also maybe are not as easily frustrated as the console gamer. The trend in the market at the moment is that everyone is trying to cater to the micro-entertainment people. They have to be incentivised every three seconds, they have to get achievements around every corner... and the question is how much do you lose in games design when you do that.
In our opinion, a lot. What we're doing with Risen 2 is that we're lowering the entry barrier by making the game more linear at the beginning, and then opening it up later on. You'll end up with the same level of freedom that you had in Risen, by the middle of Risen 2, but then you'll have 25-30 more hours after that. We also make sure we have a tutorial in the beginning.
Strategy Informer:Did you guys ever consider multiplayer for Risen 2? Other RPG franchises are starting to experiment with it, after all.
Daniel Oberlerchner: It's a question that always comes up during development, however it would of course limit what you could do. In Risen, your decisions are important, what you choose to do with the characters are important. They remember what you're doing... now imagine someone's trying to trade with someone, and the other is just trying to attack them with a huge axe, or something. There are different solutions to that, different instances etc... but in a single-player RPG would end up having so much that you end up with a very diluted experience.
Strategy Informer:As company, the developers haven't really seemed to be interested in post-launch content. The original Gothic series only had one expansion, and that was for Gothic II, and there hasn't really been any DLC or anything either - what's your view on all this?
Daniel Oberlerchner: I can't really reveal what we have in store for Risen 2 in terms of whether we will have DLC or not, but I can say that our view is... it's ok to have like new items and stuff, but it's important to also deliver content, and we don't just mean one mission, two missions... for us it would need to be at least a new island, a new quest hubs, maybe multiple islands. We're talking about more hours of gameplay, it's not about having a different ending or something like that... I mean what can you charge for that? $.99? We don't want to fall into the iTunes model. "Oh, you want a new skill? That's $2" etc... and people are feeling betrayed because they have to shell out 50 - 70 Euros for a game and yet they still have to shell out more through micro-payments.
Strategy Informer: Is that the reason why there was only one traditional expansion for the Gothic series?
Daniel Oberlerchner: Well there was also a logistical problem - they are a small tight-knit group, so when you look at the game, you wouldn't think it was a game from 20 people who work in a house in Germany. It's not even a big house, it's just a normal family house and there is stuff everywhere. It's only 20 people.
For them, it's a really tough effort to make additional content and to make it work and to release it. With other studios you would have separate teams working in parallel, but here every project gets their full attention and they don't want to split up the team.
Strategy Informer:You've mentioned how the console versions have been made from the ground up, and how you've been greatly improving the graphics across all versions... but the 360 and PS3, they're getting on a bit now. Are you worried that the console versions are going to too inferior due to the ageing hardware?
Daniel Oberlerchner: Well... you know... *laughs* I can tell you that we are going to have the optimum experience across all platforms, and they are going to be different experiences. There IS a technology gap. Some studios say they are going to have the same quality across all platforms, which is to say you take the weakest platform - the Xbox 360 - and you have the same crappy textures for the Playstation 3 and the PC.
It was just a couple of weeks ago there was a PC game that was... *laugh* well, I don't really want to go into details, but our decision is that we want to have a really hi-res experience on the PC. There is no reason why we should create hi-res textures, then just make them blurry for a console version, then put everything back on the PC again - it doesn't make any sense.
We want to make sure everything is maxed out on every platform - for example on the Playstation 3, it is a bit better in terms of Aliasing, but then extra memory is going to be better on the Xbox 360 because the PS3 doesn't have direct memory - so it has to share everything. So it's going to be different, but it's going to be the same game, with the same features.
Strategy Informer:As a primarily PC studio then, what do you guys think about mods? Modding is still a huge part of PC gaming, but your games aren't ones that people would necessarily think to mod. Is there any plans for mods tools, or just to generally promote modding in your game?
Daniel Oberlerchner: Currently the are no plans for mod tools, the reason being that the technology became so complex over the years that it's hard to do mod tools in such a small team. Of course you could just put out EXE files with no documentation, but it would make 0.1% of people happy, there's no accessibility. If you were to do that, you'd need the capabilities of Crytek, or Bethesda kind of editor which is: Interface, Textures and all documented.
That's the problem, with the studio they're working with people who know the tech inside our already, but they don't fix things if they know what the problem is. For example, you can have only three dynamic lighting effects in one scene because that's the limit. They're not going to document that or make a box saying that because everyone knows already, but no one else will know so they will put four effects in and the whole thing will crash and no one will know why. And that's the challenge with mod tools - to make them accessible, but also to make them so that gamers can modify them to such an extent... It wouldn't just be textures, right? People would want to do quests, so you would need a quester too, you would need a world editor, a compiler... unfortunately the team is too small right now to be able to live up to those expectations.
Strategy Informer:Obviously Gothic had three games, four if you count the expansion - do you want to go the same distance with Risen? Or are you going to look at new IP's again from here?
Daniel Oberlerchner: That's a good question, I think it really will depend on how the game market is developing right now. What you can see at the moment is that there is a whole trend of attaching games of different platforms and genres to the same brand.
It used to be like, you'd do Final Fantasy 1, 2, 3 right up to whatever, but then Square started doing branched off brands that are still attached to the universe. I might think about doing an iOS game that just handles the gnomes, for example. You have casual games that still hook into the universe, like Chocobo Dungeon. I'm not sure if the strategy of making one game after all the time will hold - and take into account it takes two years to make these games. Who knows what we're playing in two years? It's a very volatile market.
A lot to take in there, so we'll just leave you to it - sounds like an exciting game for both PC and Console gamers alike.