Phoenix FAQ

Author: Flosha
Created: 25.10.2023
Changed: 25.10.2023

Who were the Mad Scientists?

The Mad Scientists were the three programmers Dieter Hildebrandt, Ulf Wohlers and Bert Speckels. Inspired by games like Ultima Underworld (1992) and System Shock (1994) they wanted to make their own game (3D Realtime RPG, first person) with influences both from fantasy and science-fiction and without unnecessary interface elements and statistics. They wrote their own DOS Engine (‘Space and Time’) and prepared a demo named Finster in 1996 (released by us in 2022) that they’d send to various publishers to find a team to develop the game they dreamed of.

Finally they signed contract with Greenwood Entertainment. Mike Hoge and the other founders of Piranha Bytes (which did not yet exist at this point) were working at Greenwood. Simultaneously to the Mad Scientists Mike had been working since 1995 on the design of a vision of his own with the working title ‘Orpheus’. In 1997, when Piranha Bytes was founded, Orpheus was resurrected under the working title ‘Phoenix’ (later “GOTHIC”) and the Mad Scientists started to develop a new engine, first called zEngine (in allusion to Bethesdas XnGine), later called ZenGin, the engine of Gothic. During the development the Mad Scientists remained independent developers. They left after the release of Gothic in 2001 and did not work on any other projects with Piranha Bytes.

Without the Mad Scientists, Gothic would not exist. Not only did they develop the engine, but also a scripting language (“Daedalus”) that enabled Piranha Bytes to script the game in a very simple way, a dedicated world editor for Gothic (the “Spacer”) as well as various other tools. And it were also the Mad Scientists thanks to which we are able to modify the game, as they prepared the Gothic MDK. They are hardly mentioned when talking Gothic today, therefore we emphasize their role, that can hardly be underestimated.

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Who was Piranha Bytes?

Piranha Bytes is the name of the studio behind GOTHIC. It was founded by Alex Brüggemann, Michael Hoge, Stefan Nyul and Tom Putzki in 1997. Gothic was based on Mikes concept Orpheus and was developed from 1997 to 2001 under the working title ‘Phoenix’ on the basis of the engine by the Mad Scientists.

After the release of Gothic in 2001 the old Piranha Bytes broke apart. The Mad Scientists were no longer involved. Tom Putzki left after release. Alex Brüggemann and Stefan Nyul as well as several other developers were chucked out of the company in the following conflicts around the original Gothic Sequel. Only Mike was left who had started to work on a Sci-Fi Shooter (working title ‘Unplugged’) but had now to make “Gothic 2” as an uninspired publisher request. With 3/4th of their leaders gone, 2001 marked the end of the old Piranha Bytes team. Mike left the studio (or what remained of it) in 2013.

Piranha Bytes has since then cut off all connections to Gothic. They wanted to throw away the design folders by Mike that we have later digitised and published in the Gothic Archive in 2021. In the same year they sold Gothic to THQ Nordic. No one of the founders had a word in it.

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Who is Phoenix Tales?

Phoenix Tales is a small team of independent developers led by Flosha. We are responsible for the Gothic Archive. On our website we describe us as “indie developers of immersive tales (…), rising (like a Phoenix) “from the industrial ashes”, with which we’re referring to the gaming industry, which subjects everything to profit, while we follow an anti-commercial approach and try to oppose the industrial, corporate production with slow handwork, which does not care for profit.

Additionally, Phoenix Tales as the name of our team is a little reference to Piranha Bytes (Tales -> Tails, Bytes -> Bites), while with our logo, which shows a small, mystic and quirky Phoenix, we want to remind of the Mad Scientists.

In these articles you can find more about us:

What is GOTHIC?

GOTHIC (2001) is a CRPG by Piranha Bytes and the Mad Scientists. The name Gothic was an idea by Bert Speckels in early 1998, which still reminds of the name of their Demo “Finster”. The main inspiration was Escape from New York. It was basically supposed to be Escape from New York in a fantasy setting. Mike Hoge developed the world map and most of the setting, with the different camps on the surface, the underworld, the different factions and a rough draft of the story, which was then elaborated on by Stefan Nyul and Mattias Filler and several other supporting story authors, such as Carsten Kisslat, Navid Vahdat, Jörg Bütow, Florian Jacobi, Stefan Kalveram and Steffen Rühl. This went on till 2000, when the story had been re-iterated several times until the radical cut at the end of the development, when most of the things that all these supporting story authors had written were radically removed. As the project had been in development since 1996 and was originally supposed to be released in 1998, after one delay after another, it was almost cancelled. The cut was necessary in order to safe the release, but the result was a game that was, in fact, a mere fraction of what it was once supposed to be, both story- and feature-wise.

Gothic is set in the kingdom of Myrtana. The orcs have escaped from the racism of the humans into the underworld and have build themselves underground cities. One of these cities is located in the mining colony of Khorinis, where the ore has magical properties. Convicts are brought to this colony from all over the realm to mine ore for the war. The realm is in war with the orcs. To prevent any attempt to escape and to secure the supply of the magical ore that is mined in the valley of Khorinis and that is supposed to be decisive for the outcome of the war, the king lets his mages errect a magical barrier around the valley. But instead of total control they create chaos. When the barrier suddenly expands further than expected and captures the mages themselves, a revolt takes place inside of the prison. The convicts kill the wardens and take the prison under their control. A camp forms around the former prison castle in the centre of the valley and a new rule is established.

Oppressed by the strongest which were leading the revolt, by the “Orebarons” and their security (which has taken over the uniforms of the former wardens), the ‘Diggers’ are forced to work in the mines, to keep the ore deliveries flowing on behalf of the king, who in return fulfills the requirements of the barons. Soon this older camp splits apart and a new camp arises in which all those take refuge who despise the rule of the barons and refuse to cooperate with the king. They cooperate with the “Scraper’s Union”, an anarchist community of free diggers with their own mine, and work on a plan to escape from the prison.

The visions of a digger give rise to a third camp in the swamps: A brotherhood, which has renounced the old gods and is worshipping the “Sleeper”, an entity only known from their visions, who, as they believe, will deliver them spiritually and physically when he awakens and thus work tirelessly at his awakening.

The player is thrown into this prison. He can decide which faction he joins and which path (and related playstyle) he prefers (Warrior, Mage, Thief or Psionic) in order to achieve the goal of the game: Freedom.

This at least was the idea. The game was released in 2001 at March 15th, with a lot of bugs, an incomplete story and a plethora of content and features which could not be realised on time, which were either cut or left undone. In many cases those features were worked on for a long time and were planned, publicly announced and widely promoted since 1998. Gothic was revolutionary and it is still today to a degree, but much more revolutionary is its potential, which was not utilised, the vision it is based on, which we are roughly characterising in a simplified way as “the Alpha”. In order to understand more of what Gothic was really meant to be read the articles linked below.

The first working title of the project was ‘Orpheus’ (all related concepts we released belong solely to Mike Hoge). After the ruin of Greenwood Entertainment and the founding of Piranha Bytes, the project was resurrected under the working title ‘Phoenix’ (that we are using today to signify our goal to bring this old vision back to life).

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What is the Gothic Sequel?

The ‘Gothic Sequel’ was a project of the same name by Alex Brüggemann and Stefan Nyul, two of the four founders of Piranha Bytes of which only three were left at this point. Tom had left after the release of Gothic. At this point Mike worked on a Sci-Fi Shooter with the working title “Unplugged”. With the Sequel they wanted to continue the story of Gothic in four new chapters. Of those four planned chapters only the first chapter was realised in fragments, before the development was cancelled. It came to a conflict about the continuation of Gothic, in course of which Piranha Bytes broke apart. The work at the Sequel had to be stopped, Alex and Stefan and most of the other Sequel developers either left the company or were dismissed. Instead, “Gothic 2” was ordered by the publisher, now under the direction of Mike Hoge.

With the release of the so-called “Gothic 2” the once planned (and announced) Gothic Sequel was almost forgotten but circulated in a small group of modders in form of the last build v1.12f. At this point, there was not much known about the story and content of the Sequel beyond this small circle. Only after about 16 years (2017), screenshots of this version were leaked (and a few months later the build itself).

We had worked already for about a month before the screenshot leak and several months before the leak of the build at our own reconstruction of the Sequel, which is now called “Act II”. Thus being the first project to attempt a realisation of the original Sequel idea. See: What is Nemesis?

In the future we will provide further information about the Sequel such as a summary of the Sequel’s story in our design documentation. For now refer to the various YouTube videos that have been made about it.

What is PHOENIX?

PHOENIX (which was the working title of Gothic) is a ‘Revision’ of Gothic as a drama in two acts (Orpheus and Nemesis). We consider Phoenix as a Gothic Reboot, a re-awakening of the alpha versions and the forgotten Sequel, but it also contains a lot of our own ideas, which is necessary in order to complete the story and follow the underlying design philosophy without compromises.

PHOENIX is an Immersive Sim, which Dramatis Personae deal with personal, psychological and metaphysical themes; our small, handcrafted gameworld we see as the stage of a gothic drama.

Our own working title for Phoenix is “Project Nyx” as which it was known before. Nyx (goddess of night) refers to the two names ‘Finster’ (dark) and ‘Gothic’ and thereby to the gloomy style inherent in the game. It refers to Orpheus (the first working title of Gothic): The lore of the Orphics says, that Nyx, the night, is the “beginning of all things”. And it also refers to Nemesis (which was the internal name for perhaps the best part of the (unrealised) story of Gothic and was a major inspiration for the original Sequel): Nemesis is a daughter of Nyx.

We try to fathom and to refine the essence of the vision behind the game. We consequently follow the underlying design principles in order to develop both the special style as well as the content of Gothic further.

What is Orpheus (Act I)?

In Act I we have analysed the design, story, game mechanics and so on of the ‘Gothic Alpha’, by which we summarise all the unrealised content (see our Gothic Archive). We have called the first act Orpheus because it was the first working title of Gothic. Here we collect, reconstruct and complete the Gothic “Alpha” in a properly playable way, based on all its different versions, with all its cut-content, with the original story and with all the ambitious ideas and concepts, by which we try to exhaust the potential of the original work. Beside the creaton of the Gothic Archive and additional minor projects of ours, the currently ongoing development of Act I is our first major goal in the Phoenix Project. For us, Orpheus represents what Gothic should have been, while Phoenix represents what Gothic could have been plus what we had wished it to become.

What is Nemesis (Act II)?

In Act II we tie in seemlessly with our reconstruction of the Alpha, revive the cancelled GOTHIC Sequel and go through with it in our own, creative ways without the corporate, financial and technical constraints the former Sequel developers were once held back by. Nemesis is the name of our second Act. It is to be seen as a realisation of the original Sequel, but based on our (Alpha) version of the game world, lore and story, as we have developed it in Orpheus. Our second Act represents a full-fledged continuation to (the) GOTHIC (Alpha), that deserves the name and follows through with the old vision of Stefan Nyul and Alex Brüggemann (see Gothic Sequel).
Nemesis (the goddess of rage and “righteous wrath”) was the internal name of a central event at the end of the Alpha story, in the context of the consequences of the archdemon’s awakening. What was supposed to happen at this part of the story in GOTHIC laid the foundation for the background story of the Sequel. It is because of these essential, but discarded aspects of the story and the profound implications connected with it (such as the question of guilt of the player, the hero as an anti-hero and so on, which we elaborate on in our Sequel), that we have chosen this name for the second act of our drama.

Note that there is an ukrainian project with the same name which is also focused on the reconstruction of Gothic Alpha material; this project has nothing to do with Phoenix and is not related to PhoenixTales. Although some of its developers are our friends and part of our community.

What about the official successors?

The official Gothic successors (such as “Gothic 2” and “Gothic 3”) are not a part of the Phoenix lore. Phoenix is in the tradition of the original ideas of Gothic and of the characteristic gothic artdesign, both of which “Gothic 2” has fundamentally broken with. “Gothic 2” is not possible to bring into harmony with the original Gothic lore, setting and design. Another conflict arises due to the Gothic Sequel. The original Sequel and the official successor(s) are based on different design approaches and tell a completely different story. The Sequel represents an older plan of continuation and is to be understood as an alternative to “Gothic 2”. Since we are completing the fragmentary plot of Gothic and want to continue it in accordance with the originally planned story, by doing so we neither can nor want to take into account the so-called ‘Gothic 2’ in any way.

Phoenix is a reboot of Gothic and should be seen as an independent universe, that realises the story as initially conceived and creatively continues the drama on the basis of the Sequel ideas. Phoenix does not equal Gothic. It is a game on its own based on the early design philosophy that Gothic was once supposed to adhere to. And it is not without a reason that we do not call our project “GOTHIC: Phoenix” or something like that. It is just PHOENIX, it stands on its own. We let the official Gothic franchise be what the rightholders want it to be. We have parted ways and go our own direction.

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The question of “the” Canon is only reasonable in a coherent universe. The Gothic franchise has lost this coherence as early as with “Gothic 2”, which in regard to setting, lore and artstyle did break with the GOTHIC universe and the principles that had been established before. Please read Gothic (re)defined for more on that.

If it is only about the “official” canon this question is difficult to answer when it comes to Gothic. “Official” is what the rightholder says, but what the rightholder says does not coincide with, e.g. the statements of the “creator” (and as of now rightholder and creator are not related). For this reason alone the question of what is “officially” canon is totally meaningless. If we ask about the Canon according to the creators and developers of the game (a few of which we are in contact or friends with), it is not less confusing, because the lore and story of Gothic was not developed from a single man alone, but from several men. And as we have described further above, these men were so discordant in the context of a continuation of this story in 2001 that the team broke up on this.

Which statement should be given greater importance now? Is the opinion of THQ, which holds the rights of the franchise, of more relevance than the opinion of Mike Hoge, who invented the game but has no rights to it anymore whatsoever? And is Mikes opinion necessarily of more relevance than the one of Stefan Nyul, who developed a big part of the story? And is it relevant, what once was officially published as part of the GOTHIC franchise, but has later been declared as uncanonical by some, but not by others? Most importantly: Does all of that matter?

Our perspective is: No, it doesn’t matter at all. Not in a universe that lost its coherence a long time ago. Phoenix is beyond these conflicts. It goes back to the point, when everything was still possible. The Phoenix canon consists of the design documentation to Gothic that we have retrieved and archived, the Gothic Comic, the Screenshot Story, of Gothic the Game and the Gothic Sequel. On this foundation we have developed the lore and story further and strive for this very coherence that Gothic lost. What is official or not is totally irrelevant to us. What is relevant to us is what we make out of it.

Works like Sleeper’s Ban, the novel by Alex Wittmann, that was once supposed to become an official GOTHIC novel, or the upcoming story by Jörg Bütow, also serve us as sources of inspiration. Alex was inspired by the early concepts and wrote the story in an early development phase of Gothic. Jörg is inspired by (sadly almost completely discarded) ideas he had during development. The same applies to Finster. While the Finster Demo may not be directly related to Gothic, the Mad Scientists have played an extremely important role in its development and there are at least a few ideas that can be traced all the way back to the roots.

Since the project started we have received various alpha demos, concept arts, design documents and code from different sources. Some of this material was given to us to help in the development of PHOENIX and some of it for publication in the Gothic Archive (read #GothicArchive for further info about how and why the Archive was created).

Before anything is released in the Archive that was once intended for internal use (such as design documents and concept arts) or was prepared for the press (such as press demos), legal permission has to be acquired from the rightholders and authors of the given material.

In course of the years we have digitised hundreds of pages of design documents, handwritten notes and concept arts. Inspite of their value for our project we did not keep this material for ourselves - we digitised and published it for everyone with the kind permission of the authors. Lately we have organised a legal publication of the Finster Demo by the Mad Scientists and got it to work on modern systems.

In the same way we would like to publish every single Gothic Demo in the Archive and it is our dream for the ZenGin to become open source. We have always stated that. But this is solely the decision of the rightholder. Being in exchange with THQ Nordic we have been given the permission (1) to use the demos for PHOENIX and (2) to document them in text- and video form for the community, on a purely non-commercial basis. But it was explicitly forbidden to us to publish the internal demos themselves, same with the source code.

We keep being in touch with the rightholder on that matter and the negotiations about a legal publication are still ongoing, although they are repeatedly set back by copyright infringements in form of leaks.

We have to point out that there are some futile attempts to harm our reputation in this regard, inspite of all our work for the community. You may find us being blamed in ridiculous ways such as “holding back” material out of greed, being responsible for leaks, profitising by views on videos and similar misinformation and accusations. We are also receiving threats and are informed about public insults on a regular basis.

Please note in that context that we are not the only ones with access to the material in question (or not in every case). It was handed over during development by the old Piranha Bytes team to the press as well as to friends. In the past there were people who decided to profitise on a few of these demo versions by selling copies of them. We do not support such practices. Obviously, under these conditions leaks can not be prevented and it is surprising how long they circulated underhand. Copies of 0.56 and 0.64 were getting sold as early as 2020 and it took almost three years before they were leaked. Even more so the Sequel, which circulated within the modding scene for more than 6 years before it was leaked.

Phoenix Tales is against any form of commodification of the pre-release material of Gothic. We distance ourselves from any kind of copyright infringement and keep striving for a legal publication.

Why is X different than in Demo Y?

Many things in Phoenix are different than in the Alpha demos, since every demo is just an image of one specific phase of development. Usually a game is first conceptionalised and then produced, but Gothic went through several conceptional changes mid-production. Our Phoenix Concept is an attempt to bring these ideas together and to unify them harmoniously - insofar they fit the vision and principles that we analysed as essential and that constitute the framework of our design. This does not only include the content of different alpha versions but also diverse concept arts, sketches, features and story ideas that were never implemented in any version of the game. Thus we do not try to reconstuct one specific version of the world or to tell one specific version of the story.
They are mere fragments. Phoenix is the mosaic.

What are the features of PHOENIX?



Which engine is PHOENIX driven by?

Gothic is driven by the ZenGin, which was developed by the Mad Scientists and comes with its own script language called Daedalus. Phoenix is based on this very engine with advanced functionality realised via Union, by which we can influence the game logic more profoundly than it would be possible via Daedalus alone. We write diverse engine injections (as union plugins) to (re-)implement the special features of the Gothic Alpha and realise our own ideas.

Will there be voice acting?

We cannot promise anything, but we wish to have professional voice acting with at least a few of the original voice actors. For this purpose we will most likely call for donations in due time. We may also utilise AI in an “ethical” way for new characters and for those actors who passed away.

Is there new music?

Yes. Phoenix contains unused and discarded audio tracks by the original composer Kai Rosenkranz (aka KaiRo), which he allows to use in non-commercial projects. But it also contains several new tracks specifically created for Phoenix by our own composers.

Is Phoenix a modification?

Yes and no. We have the permission to release PHOENIX as an independent game on digital platforms like gog. In this case you need to have Gothic in your library, but you do not have to have it installed. Thus you can run PHOENIX independently, it contains all the game data and does not technically function as a mere modification, but of course it is based on Gothic and modifies the game. It will also be available for download on our website and can then be extracted as a modification unto the original game.

System requirements

The system requirements will roughly equal those of Gothic (2001) on modern systems. If you download PHOENIX as a modification a copy of Gothic is required. Our installer will patch your game and take care of the rest.

Release date?

When it’s done. Currently we are still working on the first act (Orpheus). Since we are a very small team working on it non-commercially and in our free time, several more years of development are to be expected and there is no way to change that, unless we would receive donations that would enable us to work on PHOENIX full-time.

How to support?

When you want to contribute, reach out to us on Discord. Apart from that you can donate. Donations help us to cover the costs of websites, the Gothic Archive, backups, equipment, rent and food. Small, but regular donations help us most and enable us to spend more time with development. You can support Flosha on Ko-Fi.