Vision of Gothic
in the words of the Devs (1998)
I have tried to collect the most relevant ideas of the Gothic devs on their vision of the game, in the words of the four visionaries and founders of the team: Alex Brüggemann, Michael Hoge, Stefan Nyul and Tom Putzki. These are the concepts that they considered essential for what GOTHIC was supposed to be in 1998. Many of the statements quoted below may seem repetitive. But I decided to present them as such in order to emphasize that these were the primary aspects of Gothic’s design that they were focused on, that they didn’t get tired of repeating, which they were most proud of and which inform our own vision of Gothic.
I have consciously limited the collection to the oldest, earliest interviews from 1998, as they are by far the most interesting ones. They have described their ideas most clearly and radically there; when the game did not yet exist and they wanted to do everything differently, just describing their dream of a game that was still in conception.
"Other games suck,
we do our own."
Though the German Developer PIRANHA BYTES has not even signed a distribution or publishing contract, it’s already attracting tremendous attention from publishers and gamers. The word is that even highly anticipated games like Ultima: Ascension look dull compared with GOTHIC’s highly detailed and incredibly fast engine. And the game is already being touted by insiders for its breakthrough concepts. (MCV USA 01/1998)
What’s Gothic (working title ‘Phoenix’ in 1998)?
What’s special about Gothic? Why is it different?
Mike: It’s true the games are getting better - in ways of graphical presentation but NOT, in my humble opinion, in ways of gameplay or a good story. Almost every fantasy game released recently is merely hack and slay but has practically no story. It’s like the heart of the game has been ripped out! (IGN, 11.06.1998)
Mike: […] We don’t want to create a game for our own amusement - we want to give the players around the world a game worth its while - and to finally go one step beyond dozens of boring shooters and command&conquer clones! (voodooextreme.com, 14.11.1998)
Potential buyers: mainstream players that like 3D world exploration / action / RPG (Phoenix Pitch)
Easy to understand, but complex. Phoenix is for those users who are fed up with mere 3d-killing and are longing for some deeper form of Entertainment. (Phoenix Pitch)
Phoenix is no typical role playing game. We’ve eliminated the disturbing, old-fashioned elements of RPGs, such as long player statistics and difficult handling and only kept the fun-factors […]. (Phoenix Pitch)
Stefan: […] Having fun is the “prime directive”.
The game is self-explanatory […] (Promo Booklet)
Stefan: Gothic is a roleplaying game for everyone. It’s so easy to play the game, even my mother could do it, really. Gothic has the most intuitive and easiest user interface ever encountered around roleplaying games having this much content. And everything that has impact on the game, fighting, spellcasting, character-improvement can be seen in the gameworld rather than in dozens of menus or on character sheets with hundreds of numbers and tiny little bars. But under all this simplicity, there stands a full roleplaying game and no simple 3D shooter with swords. (IGN, 11.06.1998)
You describe the game as a “3D-Realtime-Fantasy-Roleplaying-Game”, mind telling us why?
Tom: […] We thought about the genre of our game GOTHIC and we came to the conclusion: there’s none! So we decided to create a new genre: 3D-Realtime-Fantasy-RPG!!! We have a unique fantasy scenario with magic and monsters and so on, we have a main character with attributes and skills and the chance to develop all personal features, everything, even combat happens in realtime and the whole world is 3-dimensional… put all these elements together and you’ve got…? (gagames.com 20.06.1998)
What do you think will make your project, GOTHIC, stand out in the hearts and minds of RPG fans?
Stefan: They will love it, because they don’t have to learn the game. They just have to play it. No roleplaying game has ever had such easy to use controls while still having very deep gameplay. You start the game with very easy quests that every player can accomplish though having a hard job to finish the game. (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Mike: Yes, some guys seem to work on swordfighting games and the like. Honestly, I believe that we can be in the top three titles from all of those. Why? We think we can differ a good idea from a bad one. (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Tom: With GOTHIC we try to create that kind of game which we by ourselves wanted to play all the time… (gagames.com 20.06.1998)
Story and Setting
Mike: The place is a magic sphere, 1 kilometer in diameter, its lower half stuck in the earth. Inside is a prison mine colony, its convicts entrapped forever, because something has gone wrong during the casting of the magic barrier. You are thrown into the prison, and your major goal is to find your way out, because certain circumstances (which you’ll have to find out by yourself) make it seem to be a good idea to leave this place… The sphere contains a vast outside world with 3 prisoner’s camps and 3 mines. Below the mines are several natural caves. Below the caves is… No! I don’t think you want to know that. (gagames.com 20.06.1998)
Mike: First, we wanted to create a Fantasy-scenario that was dark and hostile (and no colorful fairy-tale-adventure). A Prison full of cutthroats seemed rather appropriate. (voodooextreme.com, 14.11.1998)
Can you give us an idea of the storyline for GOTHIC?
Mike: Well… You are thrown into the royal prison mine colony, which is surrounded by a magic barrier to prevent every sane being from escape. There are no guards needed - the prisoners run the mines by themselves. The precious ore that they get out of the mines is traded to the outside world in exchange for food, medicine, drugs and even some small luxuries. The mightiest fighters and mages among the prisoners have the privilege to distribute those goods among their comrades. Many of the prisoners earn their measly share by working in the mines, but there are also some of them who give a shit for the kingdom and its wares, they try to survive on their own. You’ll have to find your way out of the prison, but your first goal will be to survive! The prison is full of jerks who will gladly cut your throat when they realize that your weapon is better than theirs. But if you know how to handle them, you won’t have to kill them but could even join company with them to achieve your goal.
You will soon realize that something is wrong with the magic barrier. The mages in the prison will tell you, that, when the king’s master mages built the barrier, something must have intervened with the fragile web of magic, for the properties of the barrier are unusually strong and any attempt to destroy it from the inside showed no success. Moreover, some people start to develop psionic abilities. They form the “Followers of the Sleeper” and believe in an entity which soon will awaken and save them all… (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Mike: The Magic/Psionic Powers are a very important story thread: Some people seem to gain psionic powers, and not even the mages can explain that… Of course, there is an explanation for it, which I’m afraid you’ll have to find out by yourself… […] but the deed has to be done, for it’s written in the old scrolls that it will happen. No, really, the story of GOTHIC will deal with the question if fate is avertable or not… (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Direct Interaction - Essence of Roleplaying
You claim that you have made the game “easy” to use reducing the amount of statistics, menus etc, but keeping the role-playing elements intact. How will hard-core role-playing fans react to this?
Tom: I call myself a hard-core role-playing fan, especially for Pen&Paper-RPGs.; But the reason why I like this kind of gaming so much is not because I can’t live without statistics and menus and stuff like that. I just love to play, to slip into another character, to forget the world around me, to have the brain full of new impressions and images, to interact with my friends and comrades in fantastic surroundings and pass through dangerous situations. That’s what I call role-playing! All these points mentioned are possible by stepping into the world of GOTHIC. If you define hard-core role-playing fan like I did above - no problems at all can be expected. If not - I hope these guys will like it, too. (gagames.com 20.06.1998)
Will you be using non-interactive “movies” anywhere in the game?
Tom: Absolutely no renderings. If you want to watch a movie, go to the cinema!
Mike: Yes, that’s damn right. Every cutscene (made with the game-engine) in GOTHIC will be integrated in the game so that you can interact with the characters at any time. (IGN, 11.06.1998)
The idea of Gothic is rather a long sought for realisation of all the things that were always missing in games. Practically it is rather a necessity. (Torsten Dinkheller, krawall.de, 28.09.2000)
Please describe to us the exact elements of RPG in Gothic.
Mike:: [First key element:] Unlike traditional RPGs, character improvement in GOTHIC is no longer displayed by numbers. Everything you learn during the course of the game is visualized via animations and graphical effects. Nevertheless, you’ll have a multitude of possibilities to enhance your skills. […] The main difference is that we visualize EVERYTHING. If you find a new weapon or armor, it will be displayed on your character. If you gain a level, there is no boring number increased by one, but you will gain more respect from other characters and you will gain secret knowledge of the gang you’re in. […] There will be up to 30 skills and 30 spells to learn. We have got two completely different kinds of magic: The conventional magic and the psionic powers. Both have completely different spells.
The second key element is the Non-Player-Character behaviour. Every character has an attitude towards you and every other character in the game. In addition, every being in GOTHIC will have special likings and certain fears that can be used against them.
Imagine: You are searching through the abandoned mines to find some forgotten weapon of use. Suddenly, a rogue appears out of the shadows and attacks you. From what you can tell from his huge sword and strong armor, he is a much better fighter than you are. You throw your torch to the ground, while drawing your blade and engage him. A friendly mage hears the combat noise and moves up. He recognizes you (two days ago, you did him a favor). He recognizes the rogue (He belongs to the guys who keep stealing his potions) and decides to help you. The rogue is engulfed by flames and they all lived happily ever after… If someone else showed up, you might not have been so lucky…
The third key element is the choice of the class, you might become mage, thief, rogue, fighter, mercenary, templar, novice and may later even advance to the highest gangs in the prison. Some of them are hard to find or even secret, so I won’t tell anymore. (gagames.com 20.06.1998)
Stefan: […] One additional key element, I think, is the extreme simple user interface. It makes the impossible possible: Very easy handling of a game with many possibilities and great depth of gameplay. (gagames.com 20.06.1998)
1. Key Element: Visualisation
Mike: The character development is based on visualization. Every enhancement of your characters skills and attributes will be shown in graphical effects like changing character animations, there are no more character stats. (IGN, 11.06.1998)
Stefan: There will be no abstract attributes or skills. Learn the “sword-skill” and your character will hit cooler and faster, improve the sword-skill and you will make even faster double-attacks. Learn “hide in shadows” and you disappear in darker corners, learn to “sneak” and the walk-animations are replaced by sneaking ones, learn “acrobatics” and your character never again falls from knockback after being hit hard. (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Alex: I think it adds a lot to a games atmosphere to visualize as many aspects as possible. If you improve your skills in sword fighting you will actually see the difference while fighting. You don’t have to switch to a character-screen showing you some increasing numbers. All that stuff that you know from the more “classic” RPGs. (voodooextreme.com, 14.11.1998)
Mike: Everything you wear or use will be displayed on your character. Skill improvements are displayed by new animations. It will not be sufficient to collect a mighty two-handed-sword. If you don’t have learned the appropriate skill or, worse, aren’t even strong enough to wield the weapon, your blows will not only be slower and not so powerful, but you will see how your Character has got problems even raising the mighty weapon! So you’ve got attributes like strength and dexterity as well as many skills and spells, and every single one of them will have a different animations or additional effects when you learn or improve them. (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Mike:: Unlike traditional RPGs, character improvement in GOTHIC is no longer displayed by numbers. Everything you learn during the course of the game is visualized via animations and graphical effects. Nevertheless, you’ll have a multitude of possibilities to enhance your skills. (gagames.com 20.06.1998)
It has been rumored that there will be no character statistic screens in Gothic. First, is this true? And second what made you decide to approach an RPG title in this way?
Mike: In GOTHIC we have strength, dexterity, mana, psi-power and of course hitpoints. These can of course be reviewed in some kind of “character screen”, but it won’t hardly be necessary, because everytime one of these attributes becomes relevant it will be displayed on the screen. In addition, we have many skills to learn, each of them visualized with a new animation. So the basic concepts of RPG remain unchanged while they were converted in something we consider more popular and more pleasing. Still, no one should be worried about losing game depth. There will be a multitude of quests and riddles and those 200 guys talking to you… (voodooextreme.com, 14.11.1998)
Unlike traditional role-playing games, Gothic claims to be able to show the player skill and level gains visually, can you explain this?
Stefan: Sure, the simple philosophy is: Replace almost all statistics by in-game graphics. Replace the text “sneak talent” by sneaking animations of the character, replace the growing number for improving sword skill by cooler and faster attack animations, replace the entry for level-3 Fireball by a bigger and more pulsating glowing sphere between the mage’s hands, and so on… (gagames.com 20.06.1998)
2. Key Element: A Living world (NPC Behaviour) and Immersion
People will live their own lives. Throughout the day and night cycle each NPC works, sleeps and interacts with other NPCs. Communication with over 200 NPCs is possible. Displayed texts will be optional. Everything will be presented in digital speech output. Unique Feature: Non player characters memory. NPC’s will log your actions - When you attack them or pick their pockets, they will remember, tell their friends and even blame you for it next time they see you!
Social structure: There are 3 main groups of power in the gameworld. Depending on which group you join, some people will become your friends though others may hate you. Be careful - If you harm a key member of any group, the whole group’s attitude towards you will become worse. The world changes: 5 times during the course of the game, major events will change the world and group relationships to keep you on your toes. (Promo Booklet)
Mike: In fact, social structure is the most important innovation compared to former RPGs. If you, for example, attack someone, and there is another person witnessing the fight, it depends on this person’s attitude towards you, towards your opponent and how he judges his odds in battle. If you steal something not only the owner will notice that but also his friends will. There is a lot to say about NPC reactions, but I’m afraid for details you’ll have to wait for the first demo. (voodooextreme.com, 14.11.1998)
Monsters will live their own life. Monsters are able to behave the same way as human NPCs do.
Depending on your situation, different Monster races will cooperate. […] If they find a weapon better than their own one, they re-arm and use it against you! Monsters express feelings. When monsters hit you badly or find better weapons you can watch them express their joy or alternatively show fear (e.g. of fire). (Promo Booklet)
How is the artificial intelligence in Gothic? Do the monster do more then just attack and flee?
Tom: Yeah, they really do. They have also relations between each other, some even interact with other races like the good old Troll throwing little Gobbos over a canyon towards the Player; they hunt each other, they even play with each other… they live their own lives with their own problems and the Player is just another creature disturbing their circles… (voodooextreme.com, 14.11.1998)
I hear that in Gothic the monsters will actually be doing things other then to just stand there waiting for you to kill them. How does Gothic deal with Monster AI?
Ulf (Wohlers): The monsters will use very different tactics during combat. Some sneak from behind and try to assassinate the player insidious, others encircle the player and seal his pitiable fate by being superior in numbers. Some species will call comrades if they notice being inferior, afterwards they’ll be malicious pleased about the player hitting the ground very roughly…
Totally different species of monsters will gang up to set underhanded booby traps: Big Troll guys will grab tiny little Gobbos to establish a kind of ‘close contact’ to the player by throwing the little ones across alleged obstacles… (gagames.com 20.06.1998)
Stefan: Monsters will be the central element of GOTHIC. You watch them doing games or talk with each other, you try to sneak by, you battle them, you will use them against each others (very popular among the team). Unfortunately for the player some monsters cooperate with each other or lure the unsuspecting player into ambushes. There have also been heard rumors that orcs pull levers while the clueless player is standing on top of a trap door just to laugh at him while he falls into the pit. They will be REALLY nasty. (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Mike: The monsters and NPCs build the foundation of the puzzles. In GOTHIC, the main question is not: “Where can I find the bloody key to this door?” but: “How can I slay the bloody beast in front of it?” or: “The bloody beast is 5 foot taller than me, where can I get someone to help me kill it”. (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Mike: Our Monsters will be able to learn and improve during the course of the game. If the player is getting to good for them, they will try to avoid him, lure him into a trap or will only attack in groups. Some Monsters hate each other, while others cooperate. Goblins let themselves be thrown over gaps they can’t jump across by their collegues, the 12 foot towering trolls. Orcs use some wolf species as watchdogs. […] (IGN, 11.06.1998)
We prefer to simulate a rather small world as authentic and interesting as possible, than to simulate a vast world that is mostly empty and full of boring clones. To keep the game interesting, the story is divided into 5 chapters. Between there are turning points in the game’s story that will change the worlds surface and the game situation. (Phoenix Pitch)
Mike: […] We needed to limit the size of the world, therefore we planned to place the prison on an island, but then we decided in favor of the magic barrier, because it emphasizes the feeling of being imprisoned. Our goal to create a real, living world would have never been achieved if we would have had to display too many characters - in GOTHIC, therefore there are “only” over 200 NPCs, each of them with his/her own character, behaviour, name, skills, friends, background story and more. So, come to think of it, 200 NPCs aren’t THAT inconsiderable. (voodooextreme.com, 14.11.1998)
Mike: 3D sound offers you the possibility to recognize at once from which side an unseen attacker is approaching. Whoever played Quake-style-deathmatch will find this vital. Moreover, it is a great step towards drawing the player into the game, therefore we’re working at 3D sound for GOTHIC. (voodooextreme.com, 14.11.1998)
Mike: Reading in Computer Games sucks! As long as its not a trading simulation or stuff like that - We want the player to get immersed into the game - so digital voice output is essential. glideunderground.com, 16.10.1999
3. Key Element: Classes and Playstyles
There are 8 minor profession classes for the player to join, leading to 4 major classes, which are:
Warrior - the straight and brutal way - who needs a key when you’ve got an axe?
Assassin - the mean and cunning way - hide in the shadows and get them from behind.
Wizard - discover the mysteries and power of magic.
Psionic - Let your spirit gain control of other creatures.
You’ll have to become an expert of these classes to be able to complete the game. If you’re through the game, you can try it again and master one of the other classes.
The profession classes differ in many ways:
- new abilities which will let you see the same problem from a different point of view
- each class has its own character animations
- new parts of the dungeon, to which you could not gain access in your former class
- many new missions to complete with new riddles to solve
- complete new dialogues - your former friends will now be your enemies!
How does character generation work? Is it the traditional “pick a class and hope it works out” or do you have something different in mind?
Mike: Indeed. The first hours of playing will be your character generation. You will be able to learn the possibilities of GOTHIC before you decide which class to pick or which skills to learn. Everyone starts the game with the same attributes, only during the course of the game you will change your outfit, equipment, skills and you may even find your way of talking a bit influenced by the ones you spend most of the time with. (voodooextreme.com, 14.11.1998)
Mike: There are certain “milestones” in the story that you have to pass. But how you achieve these main goals depends on which character class you are and in which way you act. […] Although the end goal of the game will be similar for every character class, you’ll have to find different ways to get there and will have different results of your final effort […] (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Alex: […] GOTHIC will be filled with Quests. Depending on the character you play many puzzles can be solved differently. (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Within the areas of Gothic, There are multiple ways of “role-playing” your way through situations. Can you explain this in detail?
Mike: If you start the game, you belong to no one, depending on which missions you accept you will make friends and enemies. After a while, the friendly gangs will ask you to join, but you only may join one group. This is the way in which you define your class. Depending on your class, you will now be able to learn different skills, will have to solve different puzzles and will obtain different missions. A Psionic Novice, for example, will rather try to control a monster and use its abilities to fight others, while a thief will try to lure them into traps or get them from behind.
There are, of course, also “straight” classes like fighter or combat mage. If you become one of them, you will be able to hack your way through and will have to solve less puzzles. (gagames.com 20.06.1998)
Stefan: We figured out a very smart design for the multiplayer mode. This will be something absolutely unique, never done before. But let us finish the implementation before talking of details. (voodooextreme.com, 14.11.1998)
Mike: […] we plan to allow only characters of the same level to join a game, to keep the game balance intact. As we started with GOTHIC, I imagined a game where you can play several hours in single player mode, then join a game with you friend and take your character with you and finally even take the improvements you`ve made in your multiplayer session back to your single player game… (gagames.com 20.06.1998)
Tom: Just to explain: GOTHIC is divided into six chapters, and you can only join a game, if your characters are in the same chapter. (gagames.com 20.06.1998)
Alex: You control only one character, but NPCs may join for particular Quests. They can be helpful in solving Quests that are especially designed for multiplayer, but you can’t trust them blindly. […] (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Mike: As mentioned above, we want to make a network game. In GOTHIC people can play both against and with each other. Playing together will pay, for there will be some extra puzzles that require at least 2 players. (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Mike: In the multiplayer game you can play through the whole story with up to 5 players. Its no deathmatch, although you can kill the other players if they let you :). Making the multiplayer game work the same way the singleplayer game does is in my eyes a unique feature many people will hopefully enjoy (and that btw cost us hell lots of design time). Compared to Online RPGs we have small player numbers, but a complex story and many living characters to explore… (glideunderground.com, 16.10.1999)
Making of a fantasy RPG
Why did you decide to make a role-playing game?
Tom: All of us are enthusiastic role-playing gamers… […]. So, what was the best choice for our first game as PIRANHA BYTES? (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Mike: I always wanted to play “Ultima Underworld” via network. Nobody did me the favor to produce it, so we´ve got to do it on our own. Actually, our game won’t be too similar to “Underworld”, but after all, it will be a 3D-RPG with action elements, so it would at best be compared to it than to any other game. (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Why did you choose the medieval swords and sorcery genre?
Stefan: Few genres allow to build up such a dense atmosphere. […] In addition to that, the fantasy genre allows a wide variation for the player character. The mighty close combat-swordfighter, the clever and elusive archer, the vile cutthroat, the sinister fireball caster or the mystic controller of minds. Very different ways of mastering all the dangers. (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Mike: When we started with GOTHIC, everyone used 3D engines to develop a 1st person shooter in a reality or sci-fi scenario and I was fed up with that. We liked the atmosphere of 3D games but wanted to bring a new aspect to it. Seems some other guys had the same idea. Fortunately, no one came too close to our vision of a 3D-RPG by now… (desslock.gamespot.com 15.06.1998)
Flosha: Based on the quotes above, our research and our own understanding as it has shaped over the years I have attempted to summarise the essential concepts behind Gothic in condensed form:
(1) Story is defined as “the heart” of RPGs; as you are playing a role in a story (or “drama”), the RPG has to be story-driven and as it is a game it has to be driven by gameplay.
(2) An RPG (and its story) is necessarily complex; the art of RPG design is to translate this complexity into gameplay by the most simple and intuitive interface; the means by which to achieve this simplicity is radical visualisation and direct interaction instead of abstract statistics.
(3) Exploration of and interaction with the gameworld and the simulated life therein is what this kind of gameplay is made of; they are the blood the heart is dealing with, the means by which the story is driven and told; thus it has to be an immersive sim RPG.