Although I never spent too much time dawdling in the world of Risen 1 aside from simply playing the game from start to finish, it was always the game that had the ambition and the potential to match the level of excitement that the Elder Scrolls series has been able to obtain over the years (the questionable consistency notwithstanding). Unfortunately, due to a hastily rushed and broken console release that ended up overshadowing the entire game in the process, many have given up on whatever hopes and dreams they had for Risen.
Looking to make up for whatever mistakes they have made in the past, Deep silver have taken a lot of precautionary measures, taking drastic steps in the development process of the sequel to hopefully ensure its success at least from a technical standpoint.
A few days ago I was fortunate enough to be a part of a roundtable discussion with a group of journalists and the Brand Manager for Risen 2: Dark Waters, Daniel Oberlerchner, to discuss the game before they bring everything they have been working on to the forefront at this year's Gamescom. I have attempted to transcribe the Q&A session that we had during the call - the two questions I asked have been notified. For more information about the game, you can check out the preview I did for it during the closed-door demo we got to witness at E3.
Q: Why the shift to a heavy pirate world?
Daniel: Risen 1 was a mysterious island plot for the story, with a feeling compared to the show Lost. There were plenty of unknown attributes to the island, such as a lack of direction. The idea for the pirate world was taken from a quest in the original game that involved a woman named Patti the mighty Pirate and we ran with it. What we found out was that it fit perfectly in the game world, and we found that other developers have not gone to the same extent that we are taking it. Two of the big features of the game are to create well-worded dialogue that fit the pirate culture, along with plenty of unexplored territory for RPG fans.
RPGSite: What is your opinion on DRM and its intrusive behavior towards legitimate customers especially as of late and your move to Steamworks for Risen 2?
Daniel: This is an important question. The big problem we have when it comes to our financial return is with people who just pass games to each other, which causes a big dip on sales. What we like to do on a frequent basis is check the market for what tech is available to help prevent this. Risen 1 was a disc-only copy protection, and at that time Ubisoft was already moving to an online-only DRM. We feel that Steam already has a big reputation for hardcore gamers - it isn't really something focused on the casual. We also needed software that has a reputation for a stable system that does not violate people's privacy and their data. We also chose Steam for its longevitity. It also offers users another layer of service, not just with DRM, with community features that can let people chat together in real-time. It has overall become very beneficial for us.
RPGSite: With Risen 1, the ability to join factions played a big part in the amount of depth the game had for players. Are the factions still important to the game, and if so, how will they will work and what have you done to make them more engaging in the sequel?
Daniel: Factions are certainly different in our new game. Risen 1 let you join one of three factions and gave you a unique look on the story. Risen 2 on the other hand gives players far more choices. In the first game, when players chose a faction, players felt like it only let them see a third of the game and not the full game - they missed out on important events like the Inquisition and the wizards and their views of the plot. They basically had to play the game 3 different times in order to get it.
In Risen 2, you will always be a pirate. During development, we decided early that we wanted to make the game appeal to gamers in a much more attractive way. Risen 1 was a neutral space with an indistinguishable interface because the developers didn't know what faction the player would choose. Risen 2's UI is very pirate-focused. There are different factions and exclusive quests for each of them. You also gain multiple companions based on the factions that you choose to be a part of. We want to give choice, but don't close gamers off from the game.
Q: Does the gear you have show on your character when you change equipment?
Daniel: Yes, absolutely! In contrast to Risen 1, we wanted to give players cooler and better outfits earlier. In the original, players had to basically wait almost 3 hours in order to get out of their raggy clothing they started with. We want to incentivise players earlier by throwing thigns such as new hats, bandannas, and more earlier. You can even go into your inventory and see what your character looks like with a 3D render, even in the shop before you decide to buy the clothing.
Q: Can you tell us more about the pirate ships, and what we can do with it?
Daniel: We will be restricting what you can actually do with the ship. We want to give players a deep RPG experience, but at the same time we do not want to do a sailing simulation. Other games have already explored the ship exploration and management systems, like Sid Maier's Pirates. This is a very important function though, allowing you to navigate the world. You are not stranded anymore like in Risen 1, and there are far more interactions with new characters. The ship acts as sort of a moveable base. You can collect new crew members from the different quests you go on and you can communicate with each of them.
Think of the Normandy ship from Mass Effect - you can't control it, but you still feel immersed. The people aboard will give you feedback and comment on the player's progress. At the endgame, we want players to think that the ship will be a melting pot of culture and factions who are experience the game with you. You are not going to pilot the ship actively, but just moving between islands. I would also like to mention that there will be no loading times, and we accomplish this by cleverly hiding them with cutscenes that play during travel. This is a completely seamless game.
Q: Will players be able to customize the look of their ship?
Daniel: No, but you will be able to obtain different vessels.
Q: Can you tell us more about the companion system?
Daniel: In the game and on the ship, there will be crew members with different roles: cooks, first mates, and more. You can take crewmembers on the shore with you. Each character is an archetype of different skills. If you know there is a dungeon on an island where a range fighter may not help out due to lack of sight, you may want to get someone with superior close range. You can also give them potions so they will heal you in battle. These crewmembers are very easy to manage - basically, we didn't want to include this feature if it overcomplicated things. You will always find ways to get different crewmembers. The skills you want can be decided upon on the Character menu, and you will distribute points into attributes in true RPG form. There are normal skills and 70 different perks, such as blacksmithing, stealth, stealing, creating fighting combos, etc. People in the game can train you these perks, but you will need their trust or pay them gold based on their behavior. You may have to do full questlines in order to gain that trust.
Q: Did Dead Island's focus of developing the PC and 360 parallel influence Risen 2? (Dead Island is also publised by Deep Silver)
Daniel: No. In fact, it was more inspired by Risen 1's problems. Everything that a game developer does is a custom fit for their development cycle. The people at Techland (developers of Dead Island) are working with 200 people in Poland with different sections with 2 products in parallel. Risen 2 is made by 25 people in a small building - these are two very different approaches. Dead Island is an industrial type of creating games, while Piranha Bytes are more garage developers working overtime often. We wanted to make Risen 2's console development much better this time. We felt that we utterly failed on the console port due to the lack of time to polish it.
Q: Any lessons learned from Risen 1?
Daniel: The most important lesson: everything between the two companies (the PC and Xbox 360 versions have split development between two companies) especially communication and interaction is very important. In the first game, we didn't have the tech crew look at things as it went along, but now they have the tools to work on everything, so they can work incrementally instead of given only one week to look at the code. There was also maybe not enough talent on Risen 1 to make good looking textures, and there was not enough time to make it look and run well for the Xbox version. In the end, we had to lower the quality of things like textures and the resolution, and so we did what he had to make things far more proficient.
Q: Will there be a quick save feature on the console?
Daniel: There are save points in the game, and players can manually save but also use save points. As far as quick saves are concerned, we may not be able to include that. That is actually restricted by the console owners - Microsoft may not allow us to do this.
Q: Will Risen 2 be using Steam on PS3?
Daniel: No, but the reason is that we are still inexperienced with Steam, so we want to make sure that everything works as expected first. That is certainly a more advanced feature. We also don't know if they would allow us to use this feature even if Sony approved, and we don't know if we can do it without being Valve.
Q: Is there a limit on the number of crewmembers?
Daniel: All people on the ship need to make sense with the story, so they all have their place. You will never have to worry about deciding who to keep and who to kick off the ship.
Q: You said before that your character will be able to have their own parrot. Will the parrots be able to attack people?
Daniel: Yes, you can launch the parrot at people and distract them. Enemies grow independently and can attack you in brutal ways, so in order to keep people at a distance you can use the parrot to do things like flank enemies. However, they can attack your parrot as well, or an alligator may try to eat the parrot, so have to be aware of it. You can also grab coconuts to throw at people. One of the many perks in the game is "Parrot Trainer", where you can hurl the parrot into the air and it will divebomb onto the NPC. But there is a cooldown of 20-30 seconds so you can't spam the parrot like crazy. You will also only have one parrot to take care of.
Q: Were you influenced by any pirate pop culture?
Daniel: Haha! Well, it will not as extreme like World of Warcraft that has quests with quotes from movies or names of bands, but they are in there. For example, one quest has you killing a cow and putting the head of the cow in the bed of an enemy, an obvious Godfather reference.
Q: What influencted the bright color palette of Risen 2?
Daniel: Risen 2 has over 35 hours of gameplay, so we had to find a way for the player not to be depressed in the meantime, as opposed to Risen 1's dreary and dark atmosphere. The game is all about given players a bigger range of atmospheres and experiences without focusing on one, but we are going to be releasing an in game trailer soon that will contain the dark stuff showing traces of Risen 1's look (you can see that trailer below).
Q: Has the game been dumbed down for the console release?
Daniel: The experiences are optimized for the different platforms. There are unfortunately more trends lately in the industry where developers are giving experiences that are the same on every platform, in which they are focusing on the lowest denominator and porting it to the PC, even if the PC is 10 times better than the console. There is a challenge of choosing screenshots for the 360 and PC, and people complain, but people must know that the console is limited in performance. Even smartphones have caught up to consoles in terms of memory, so they don't want to compromise the experience just for the sake of keeping everything in line. The PC version will have crisper graphics and better effects because that is what the hardware is capable of.
Q: Will there be the usual graphics options for the PC?
Daniel: Of course. We also have fully emulated an Xbox 360 version so the game will be able to recognize an Xbox 360 gamepad when you plug it into your computer and itchanges the interface. A debug command console will also be useable on the PC.
Q: Does the game have wenches and whores? (the PR cited the question as the best she has ever gotten in her professional career)
Daniel: Yes, absolutely! However, we are restrictive on what you can do with those girls. Another perk is "Silver Tongue" which is used to convince people. I would like to mention a new feature: the game will have far more dialogue options given to players. The game has a lot of swear words and is therefore M-rated. Risen 1 had a lot of swear words in the German version which didn't carry over to the English copy. In fact, this time around, the English version of Risen 2 is now more obscene than the German version!
Q: When is Risen 2 expected to ship?
Daniel: We can say that the game will be released in early 2012.
I would like to thank Daniel O. for taking the time to be a part of the roundtable, and we are excited to see more of the game as we near its surprisingly close release. We also have for you a Gamescom teaser trailer for Risen 2: Dark Waters below to whet your appetites until then, showing off the aforementioned dreary atmosphere of the game: