You should pay attention to Risen 2. Granted, fantasy role-playing game Risen 1 was awful on console and only decent on PC. But from the outset the game was a modest attempt by Piranha Bytes to find its feet after acrimoniously splitting with JoWooD, the long-time publisher of its Gothic games.
So the studio has pedigree, and the conditions for Risen 2 are considerably better. It's the most expensive project Piranha Bytes has embarked on. It's based on pirates rather than on the overused traditional fantasy tripe. And the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are being part developed in-house.
Risen may even be known as Gothic again somewhere down the line, as Piranha Bytes owns and only rented the licence to JoWooD. But whether PB wants the hassle of washing away the bad taste left by ArcaniA - A Gothic Tale remains to be seen.
Risen 2 is currently pre-alpha. There's no fixed release date and Piranha Bytes wouldn't be pushed on confirming Risen 2 as a 2011 title. The luxurious label of "when it's done" applies here.
How much better will Risen 2 be? Eurogamer put lead Risen 2 game designer Michael Hoge and brand manager Daniel Oberlerchner in the chair.
Eurogamer: Was Risen 1 your best work?
Michael Hoge: No, absolutely not. Risen, especially the console version, was done quite poorly. It was our first console project. The PC version was all right, though. With Risen our main goal was to produce a role-playing game in time and in budget.
Daniel Oberlerchner: [Piranha Bytes] wanted to recover from the feedback they got for Gothic 3. Gothic 3 was their previous project before Risen 1. The feedback from the community and also the press was abysmal for Gothic 3 because the project lacked a lot of time and polish. It was a huge world but it wasn't really filled properly and there were many bugs.
We wanted to get rid of the bugs and polish it down for Risen 1. And I think we succeeded with that.
Eurogamer: Why was Risen on console was done "poorly"?
Michael Hoge: There are several people involved in that. Our part, of course, was that it was our first console production so obviously mistakes were made that cost time that, as usual, ran out at the end of the project.
Then there was communications with another team, because another team in France did the console production. There were a couple of reasons, but the most important is that it was the first time we did it.
Daniel Oberlerchner: One major reason for the console version not being that good is that we at Deep Silver decided very, very late in the development of the game to do a console version.
Right from the beginning Piranha Bytes worked on a PC-only game, and mid-production we thought about doing a console version and we found some French guys who were crazy enough to do the game in like eight months! Ha! Which is a very, very short time for an open world RPG where you can have so many decisions, etc.
So this time, the reason why Risen 2 is going to be better is because simply that we have done multi-platform development right from the start.
Eurogamer: Is the console development of Risen 2 in house?
Michael Hoge: Parts of it, yes. Everything that has to be done to the game data on console in order to run it smoothly - we do it in house. With Risen 1, due to time constraints, [the French studio] chose to go the hardcore way and just reduce all the assets by 75 per cent to let it run.
And you know the result. What we're doing now is we have our own guys in house who do data reduction and data adoption for the console.
Eurogamer: There's a PS3 version this time around, too.
[Deep Silver has contacted Eurogamer and confirmed development of Risen 2 on PS3 as well as on PC and Xbox 360 -Ed]
Eurogamer: But there's potential for a PS3 version?
Daniel Oberlerchner: Yeah.
Eurogamer: How will the console versions of Risen 2 compare with the PC game?
Michael Hoge: It's hard to give a final judgment as we're currently still developing it, but from what I'm seeing right now on our screens, it looks quite close. Our aim is to build an Xbox 360 version that you can't tell the difference to the PC version on first look.
Eurogamer: Will there be any major differences between PC and consoles either from a technical or gameplay point of view?
Michael Hoge: No, no.
Eurogamer: I've heard that at Piranha Bytes there are 20 staff that all live and work together in a house - is that right?
Michael Hoge: Yeah, but we don't live here; some guys live here, mainly the ones who are new, before they get their own apartment. But we chose to have a house instead of a grey bureau complex because we thought it was more fun being here.
"The project Risen 2 is by far the most expensive project that we've done."
Eurogamer: What is the budget for Risen 2?
Michael Hoge: The project Risen 2 is by far the most expensive project that we've done. I can't elaborate on that, sorry.
We've put much more effort into the animation by using motion capture. Also, the structure of the game: in Risen 1 we had quite an imbalance in the game chapters; as the game went on there was less and less to do, and at the end you had to run through a couple of dungeons. This gave you the feeling that the game became more boring.
What we're doing in Risen 2 is mix it all up: the dungeons will not be at the end of the game but at several points in the game.
We have a completely different travelling system. We've split the world into several islands and coastal regions, so you still have an open world, which you can explore freely, but we can force the player to solve some missions before we allow him to travel to another island. Thus we can ensure the player knows certain things when he arrives.
Eurogamer: What is that "completely different travelling system" - is it linked to the piratical theme?
Daniel Oberlerchner: Yes, but we can't really tell you the details. All we can tell you now is that you're going to travel by ship from island to island. But how the ship is going to work and what it entails - we're going to reserve that.
The whole story revolves around pirates. Our main goal when we started the project was to develop a pirate RPG with fantasy elements. We combined what we'd done before with a pirate setting. Yes, obviously you can become a pirate when you play the game.
Eurogamer: Will players have their own pirate ship?
Daniel Oberlerchner: I can't comment on that.
Eurogamer: Is the game world of Risen 2 bigger than Risen 1?
Michael Hoge: The game world of Risen 2 has several islands the size of the island in Risen 1. And no, bigger is not always better, but the way we've done it, by having the player explore certain locations before he can move on to others - and then at a certain point allowing him full access to the whole world - gives us the opportunity to tell the story and have an open world.
Eurogamer: How does a Piranha Bytes story compare to a BioWare story - say Dragon Age II?
Michael Hoge: Dragon Age is far more into epic battles and war. We always try to have the player solve a certain problem in the world, but it's not like he's the saviour of the world - he is the saviour, maybe, of the village.
He is not killing a god of evil but he is killing one of his minions who is particularly dangerous. We go one step more towards the reality approach: what one person really could do, not the superhero stuff.
Eurogamer: How do you feel about companions, romance and good and evil - are those ideas in your game?
Michael Hoge: Yeah, those are in our game. We enhanced the party system a bit...
Daniel Oberlerchner: We can't really go too much into the details! In Risen 1 you had quests where you accompany people, and that's the minimum level of companionship you'll have in the game. We're not going to have a Dragon Age II or Dungeon Siege party with four or five men - that's not our aim.
Michael Hoge: We have this party mechanic where you can only have one party member at a certain time. It's for balancing reasons. We have no round-based combat system; it's real-time, and it's no good to have five people around you hacking and slashing through the game when you can't control them.
It's very hard to do the balancing bit without auto-magic strength-levelling of creatures - we didn't want to do that.
Eurogamer: Will Risen 2 let us have sex with another character?
Michael Hoge: We didn't do it in this game. We just hint at things and go around this and try to make dialogue around that; play with it, play with the subject. But we don't go into it. We felt that you do it in the proper way or you don't do it at all. It's not possible to do that now.
Eurogamer: Combat was criticised in Risen 1 - how will Risen 2 be better here?
Michael Hoge: We rebuilt the combat system to fit our new needs. With have many, many, many combat animations that fit together. They're done in motion capture. What we improved mainly is the look of combat.
The integration of guns meant putting them on an abstract level. These are the old one-shot guns; you would not like a game where you could fire a musket and wait five minutes to fire another shot. We needed to find different mechanics, one of which is allowing us to wield sword and pistol at the same time.
Eurogamer: How will our heroes evolve - what's the character customisation like?
Michael Hoge: We restructured the system in a way that allows the player to develop his own character more freely and not so story-bound. There are certain aspects that result from which faction are your friends, but you can divide your points between swordfighting or gunfighting how you like. The pirates, for example, can teach you certain things.
Eurogamer: How many character levels does Risen 2 have?
Michael Hoge: There is no limitation to character development in our games whatsoever. You can carry as much as you want, you can wear and use everything you find as soon as you find it. We have no restrictions. You can even raise certain skills above the value of 100, which gives no advantage until you get to difficult situations.
Daniel Oberlerchner: The level-cap isn't really relevant.
Eurogamer: Can we make our own weapons and armour?
Michael Hoge: Weapons: yes. Armour: no. We have decided to have the character combine his own armour this time, so he can have his own boots and shirt and earring and ring and whatever stuff. There are many different slots.
"You play one or two hours of Dragon Age II and that's OK. You're not going to sit down and play one hour of Risen 2."
Eurogamer: How do you feel about multiplayer - will there be any?
Michael Hoge: Nope. It's not an issue for us. We are a small team, and what we wanted to focus on was improving our assets and do a good console version. Maybe after that we think about multiplayer.
Eurogamer: BioWare was criticised of dumbing down Dragon Age II for a console audience. There are parallels with the production of Risen 2, a multi-format game. Are you worried the same thing may happen?
Michael Hoge: No. Not really. There might be some aspects of the game some people wont' like, but this won't be among them.
Daniel Oberlerchner: Risen 2 is as Risen 1: a very core game. You will have long play sessions. You are looking at a game that has a lot of play hours. Right now we're looking at between 40 and 60 hours, something like that. It's a huge game.
What you see in Dragon Age II, for example, is that the game is designed to be consumed in chunks; when you go home at night, when you're finished with your work. You play one or two hours of Dragon Age II and that's OK.
You're not going to sit down and play one hour of Risen 2. You're going to sit down and realise, five hours later, that you're still playing Risen 2. That's the major difference and we're not going to change that for the console at all.
Michael Hoge: What's also important is that we have no loading zones. If you enter a house you just go in - you don't have to load. Same with dungeons, same with a path over the mountain. You only have to load when you go to another island or another coastal region.
Daniel Oberlerchner: Another criticism of Dragon Age II is that BioWare reused dungeons and material: they recycle a lot. In Risen 2, almost every location is unique.