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One of the many nebulous concepts that spring up when writing about games is “a sense of place”. We talk about worlds and locations and settings, but often these boil down to unusual geography or art direction surface details and imagery rather than a real identity.
Gothic, by contrast, wasn’t particularly pretty. Its setting wasn’t the singular underground world of Arx Fatalis, nor the varied alien landscape of Morrowind. Instead, Piranha Bytes recognised back in 2001 that a place is a place not because of its landscape or biome or buildings, but because the people there make it one.
Most RPGs have NPC traffic. Gothic had a society>.
“Eclectic, Lavish, Exhilarating, Xenial”, was how Risen and Gothic developers Piranha Bytes described their forthcoming post-apocalyptic open world RPG ELEX [official site] when they announced it last year. I reckon they were being purposefully tongue-in-cheek, but either way we didn’t have all too much to go on back then beyond the initial idea.
Fast forward the better part of a year, and a website overhaul, a load of new info and a fresh “mood” trailer now offer us a better understanding of what it’s all about. Observe:
Gothic 3 scored only 8/10 because developer JoWooD "forced" the game's release when it was "not ready", developer Piranha Bytes has revealed to Eurogamer.
That was the final nail in the coffin: Piranha Bytes walked away from its long-term publisher partner and the renowned RPG series it had created.
"The problem was - to cut a long story short - there were a couple of differences in opinion between the publisher and us," said Piranha Bytes co-founder Michael Hoge. "And the whole thing collapsed when the publisher forced us to release Gothic 3 while it was not ready."
"To be fair, if we had finished it in the time that we promised, it would have been fine. But as it was, the development took longer on the project, and instead of trying to find a solution with us - how to get this right - they just wanted to release it. It was because of their stock market orientation, I think. So we decided to go separate ways then."
JoWooD went on to attempt a fourth Gothic game using developer Spellbound Software. The results were dire: ArcaniA - A Gothic Tale was "a dry spreadsheet" of ideas that "neither mentally or materially" rewarded players - 4/10.
"For us it seemed to be a win-win situation," said Hoge of the impact of ArcaniA - A Gothic Tale, "because we knew we would get the brand back.
"Currently, JoWooD has no more rights on developing any further Gothic titles, so the rights are back - they will be back I think next year. I don't have the contract here. Very soon the contract runs out and we will get the rights back. And we knew that from the start.
"We thought, OK, scenario one: they do a good game and it furthers the brand. Scenario 2: they fail and everyone knows why."
Risen brand manager Daniel Oberlerchner added: "I'm not sure everyone is aware that the proprietary of the Gothic brand is actually Piranha Bytes - it wasn't JoWooD."
"Actually Piranha Bytes just lent the brand to JoWooD for a couple of titles."
JoWooD, today, faces bankruptcy. All current projects, including Gothic 4 expansion Fall of Setarrif, have have been suspended.
Piranha Bytes, on the other hand, beavers away on Risen 2, a game Hoge and Overlerchner were at lengths to explain will be much improved in all areas over Risen 1.
When work on that comes to an end and the Gothic IP returns home, will Risen become Gothic?
"That's a dangerous question," laughed Oberlerchner. "That's a big secret!"
"No, we can't talk about that - seriously."
I’ve been travelling for 25 hours, and now I’m in Utah. There’s snow, and buildings made from wood. Why do I tell you this? Because I’m knackered and want to have a little moan. Pity me. Weep for me. Tell me you love me.
Cheery news, however: 1) there’s a big pot of coffee right next to me. 2) Gothic creators Piranha Bytes might be getting their original franchise/universe back, having had to hand over the rights to erstwhile publisher JoWood some time ago.