GOG.com Interviews Piranha Bytes’ Björn Pankratz
Risen 2: Dark Waters dropped anchor today, on GOG.com (the Gold Edition containing all of the games expansion packs is only $11.99 until Saturday!). That’s a nice moment for a chat with someone who’s been in Piranha Bytes since 1999, had the chance to work on both Gothic and Risen series, and now is the studio’s Project Director and head of Game Design. GDoc, the GOG.com blogger-in-chief, talks with Björn Pankratz!
GDoc: Let’s get this out of the way once and for all—Risen is, at its core, the actual fourth Gothic game, right? Were you guys sad to leave the realm of Myrtana (where the Gothic games were set) behind, or were you happy to explore a brand new world and start the adventure from scratch without looking back at the Nameless Hero and his further proceedings?
Björn: We loved to work on the Gothic universe. It was a pleasure for all of us to see, that these games were played and liked by so many people. We also loved to make a new world with new characters and adventures in a similar setting as we did in the Risen series.
GDoc: In 1997 Gothic was the title that put Piranha Bytes on the map of gaming industry. Are there many people from the original team still working with you all these years later?
Björn: Many of us are still from the old guard. But time does not stop. We did not want to become an old company or to become blind for fresh new impulses over the years. So we looked for young and ambitious new team members in the last years and found a lot of suitable candidates for the next generation of Piranhas. I am very proud of our team today.
GDoc.com: The first Gothic and Risen were released 12 years apart. Two games with a very similar gameplay feeling and ideas coming from two completely different times when it comes to technology available to game developers. Many things have surely changed making your life easier. But tell me, are there any parts of the old creative process that you miss nowadays?
Björn: Every time has its own atmosphere, problems and pleasures. To compare them is not easy. The next problem you have to solve is always the hardest. Fact is, that we never forgot where we started and tried to do things in our own tradition and lifestyle. And believe me, such a idealistic values are not easy to defend over the years.
GDoc: While many RPG games re-create worlds already existing in the pop-cultural geek hive-mind, both Gothic and Risen feature original, non-licenced settings. However, there surely were some inspirations behind each of these games. What ideas and themes from other fictional worlds made it into your games?
Björn: We like to play games and watch film of all kinds of settings and genres. To name them all would be too much to list them all. The important ones for sure are the tales of Tolkien’s middle earth, Star Wars and similar well designed universes. We were always trying to create a special and unique world with many different aspects. On one hand, it should always be a world, where we ever wanted to live in, on the other hand, we wanted our fans to feel comfortable about the contents we offer them. To hit their expectations were always our biggest directive and challenge.
GDoc: Piranha Bytes games are often praised for their ability to balance open-world gameplay with story-driven narrative. Did it take hours, and hours of figuring out, or did you manage to find that sweet spot by intuition? And while we’re on the subject, what’s your take on sandbox gameplay in RPGs?
Björn: The gameplay and quests we designed have to offer many things: To be believable, to be varied, to be easy to manage for the player, to put the player right into the action, to offer the biggest freedom of choices as possible and last but not least: It has to be entertaining from the first to the last minute of the games. We worked hard on our mechanics to manage all these issues again and again for every title. Just to get a little idea of what the production of a game like ours is about.
GDoc: Let’s finish off with a question that will let our readers get to know you a little more, personally. Besides your own homepage (and GOG.com, of course!) what do you consider to be the hottest, most interesting thing or place that can be found in the Internet—right now?
Björn: There is much hot stuff in the internet today, but the most interesting thing seems to be the social networks. Nowadays I have the opportunity to present myself to everyone, as I want to be seen. That’s amazing.