Gothic продвигала темное фэнтези до того, как это стало модным

Gothic – how much in this word! Remembering one of the most distinctive role-playing series

The fate of the German studio Piranha Bytes is somewhat unique. She never rushed to the top echelon of developers, did not mark in the AAA segment, but among RPG fans she is no less known than BioWare or Black Isle, and in the 2000s she managed to compete on equal terms. for nationwide love with the giant Bethesda Game Studios. The first step on this path was taken a quarter of a century ago.

⇡ #Daring newbies

It is not easy to unearth where the development started, but thanks to the fans, some facts can still be gleaned from the Internet. Enthusiasts at the largest forum dedicated to “Gothic” gather old interviews and pieced together the whole story of the creation of the series. I will try to highlight the key.

Gothic promoted dark fantasy before it became fashionable

Gothic promoted dark fantasy before it became fashionable

1997 year. In the German city of Bochum, four friends, Michael Hoge, Alex Brueggemann, Stefan Nuehl, Tom Putski, who come from Greenwood Entertainment, open a studio with the catchy name Piranha Bytes. In the first years of the company’s life, other important people in the future also came aboard: the composer Kai Rosenkrantz and the game designer Bjorn Pankratz. But, although in the history of the company it is these names that are most famous, in fact, the idea of ​​the role-playing adventure belongs to the students of the University of Oldenburg: Ulf Wahlers, Dieter Hildebrant and Bert Speckels.

It was this trio who, being fans of Ultima Underworld, had taken on the development of their own RPG a few years earlier. Soon they came to the conclusion that they could not implement the idea on their own, took the developments of a self-made engine (yes, in those days it was impossible to just download a distribution kit of some Unreal Engine or Unity) and turned to that very Greenwood. The latter liked the idea, they took over and allocated resources for a project codenamed “Orpheus”, which soon moved under the roof of the newly formed Piranha Bytes together with the whole team.

The technological base was named ZenGin Engine. The first years of development were spent on mastering the engine (the first results of those works are still easy to find) and adapting it to the needs of the game, which received the official name – Gothic. The idea for the name came from one of those same students – Bert Speckels. Despite the fact that it was three students who actually gave birth to the beloved series, they all left the team after the release. Perhaps one game was enough for them to make their dream come true and move on. By the way, in Risen, a more recent game of “piranhas”, you can find characters with the names Olf, Ditar and Bart.

One of the first screenshots of Gothic. Gloom was blown away for release!

One of the first screenshots of Gothic. Mrakoris was blown away by the release!

Gothic was published by Phenomedia AG, which merged with Greenwood Entertainment, the former workplace of the founding fathers. During the development process, “Gothic” did not attract much attention – another young team is working on a dream project, showing screenshots that were ugly even for that time. In four years (counting from the moment of the main Piranha Bytes) Gothic has undergone many changes – the web is full of comparisons of early materials with the final result. Nobody expected an outstanding piece. In vain.

⇡ #An illusion believed in

The final version was released on March 15, 2001. In America, “Gothic” was not particularly noticed, despite the decent reviews from the press – it turned out to be too hardcore and incomprehensible. But in Europe, the game was so warmly received that a year later, for the attention of players with a daring newcomer had to fight monumental The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Why did Gothic sink into the soul so much?

An open, almost seamless world, a change of day and night, the dependence of NPC behavior on the time of day, dynamic weather, fully voiced dialogues – all this separately was not new and has already been met, but like this, all at once and in one project, it was impressive … All means served one purpose – to create a believable world. Gothic successfully seemed like something more than it really was – I say this with might and main not in reproach, but with the admiration of a longtime fan who first went to the Minental Valley fifteen years ago and replayed the game before preparing the material. Thirty hours passed unnoticed, as if for the first time.

Although the idea was born out of sleepless nights in Ultima Underworld, in the end Gothic was much more like Ultima IX: Ascension.

Although the idea was born out of sleepless nights in Ultima Underworld, in the end Gothic was much more like Ultima IX: Ascension.

The same simulation of life, in fact, is extremely simple – each NPC has one or two days to do, and at some point most go to the side to do the same the next day. Some Sims may sit around a campfire or go to a bar before going to bed. The secret is in how organically the classes fit into the world: the blacksmith tirelessly forges swords, the guards train, ordinary residents sit by the fire or repair their shacks.

The elementary schedule is diluted with dotted scripted scenes: the miner complains that his house has become a gateway, the impudent security guard Bloodwin demands a bribe for “protection”, and a local fool suddenly imposes on his fellow travelers and distracts with chatter. At certain plot points, the state of the world changed noticeably – new tasks appeared, important heroes moved, the locations cleared from enemies were inhabited by a new deadly fauna. The authors created a wonderful illusion of a living environment that seemed to exist independently of the player. A vibrant soundtrack by Kai Rosenkrantz and realistic natural ambient finally cemented the feeling of believability.

Gothic enveloped in a palpable gloomy atmosphere. For once, the plot was not about a great hero saving the world. Against the background of a bloody war raged between mankind and the orcs, and the people held on only thanks to the magic ore, which was mined by convicts in the Minental valley on the island of Khorinis. The mages closed the mine with a Barrier that allowed living things to enter, but not get out. True, they overdid it, and the dome covered a much larger area than expected.

In the first moments, the game hints that there is no need to wait for a special relationship

In the first moments, the game hints that there is no need to wait for a special relationship

The nameless protagonist ended up in this hard labor. The hero is another important component of Gothic’s success. The only thing the player knew about his virtual avatar was that he had committed some kind of crime. All other details were completed by the imagination. Was he a murderer, a thief, or was he set up? Any past equally well fit into the narrative, because life before the Colony did not play any role. It was very easy to identify with the nameless.

Inside the Barrier, the hero simply tried to survive, gradually climbing the career ladder in one of the three factions. No one lent a helping hand, but every second person could put a footrest. The maximum earthiness of events was a breath of fresh air among the pretentious fantasy of the time. Although in the end, the story still boiled down to a prophecy, the Great Evil and the collection of artifacts. The final hours turned into a boring sweep of locations, but the path traveled left an indelible impression.

Piranha Bytes has managed to achieve a vivid sense of progress. The training laconically blended into the game world – you learned the basics together with the protagonist. Hunters shared their experience of battles with predators, and warriors advised tactics against the enemy with a sword. The mentors, who still had to be looked for, not only raised the characteristics, but also taught how to properly hold the weapon. With each lesson, even the animation of the blows changed – the hero began to hold on more confidently, and the combos became longer and faster. This was superimposed on your personal skill and understanding of the tactics of different opponents. Even the weakest goblin was a mortal danger if taken carelessly. Demon’s Souls was only eight years away …

The famous concert In Extremo right in the first

The famous concert In Extremo right in the first “Gothic”

As an RPG, Gothic was rather superficial – with a simple role-playing system devoid of social skills. Leveling boiled down to a choice of two fighting styles: warrior or mage. The game, rather, with one foot entered the territory of the immersive sim genre. The world lived by its own internal rules, and the player had to learn to interact with it. You need a sword – take an iron blank, heat it in a furnace and work with a blacksmith’s hammer. Or relax and have a shisha. Sit down by the fire, fry the scavenger meat and recuperate. Gothic laid the foundation on which all further work of Piranha Bytes is based. Sly Germans created their own genre in which they had no competitors.

⇡ #Conquest of Olympus

Gothic has become iconic in certain circles, but not as successful as the creators would like. It couldn’t even pay off for a long time, but the warm reception of the audience was enough to take on the sequel. There were enough difficulties on the way. In the process of working on a large-scale add-on, Phenomedia AG went bankrupt. Piranha Bytes needed to find a new publisher as soon as possible, as well as return the rights to the series from a bankrupt partner.

The developer transformed into Pluto13, through the court returned Gothic to its ownership and registered the Piranha Bytes trademark, under which he continued to release projects. Fortunately, a new publisher, JoWood Entertainment, was found quickly. But there was also a decent portion of tar in the ointment – as part of the agreement, the publisher received all the rights to the Gothic series. In the process of all these perturbations, the addition was canceled and the development of a full-fledged second part began. The working version of the add-on, which was called Gothic Sequel in absentia, surfaced on the Web a few years ago – you can evaluate it personally out of academic interest.

Port of Khorinis is one of the most memorable cities from video games

Port of Khorinis is one of the most memorable cities from video games

The canonical Gothic 2 (2002) was actually collected in a year, and against the backdrop of all the litigation, the sequel, it would seem, inevitably had to suffer greatly. Surprisingly, in the end, the sequel developed and improved every aspect of its predecessor. The developers also polished the visual part: tweaked the effects, improved animations, worked on vegetation and water, and managed to offer almost twice as much content with an even greater level of elaboration. Expanded and deepened the role-playing system, added more non-linearity in quests. And we turned on the complexity. The first adventure in Khorinis will surely turn into a dozen hours of suffering, trial and error before you get anywhere. But the sweeter the coming victories …

The success of “Gothic 2” was finally consolidated by the addon “Night of the Crow” (2003), which added another playable region, a storyline, a bunch of quests and a shoveled balance. Not at all in the direction of friendliness, I must say. The game has become even more severe, and the basic difficulty has risen to the level of “hurt me” (of course, for beginners, not veterans who already know a bunch of nuances and subtleties). In my opinion, the decision is controversial. Do not even try to choose the path of the Fire Mage in the first playthrough – you will only smash the keyboard out of anger. Otherwise, I agree with the opinion of most fans of the series that “Night of the Crow” is the highest point of development for both “Gothic” and Piranha Bytes. All the advantages of the author’s approach are especially vividly expressed in it: various quests, interesting factions and, most importantly, a devilishly cozy world rich in secrets.

⇡ #After the peak – at the peak

The development of Gothic 2 was carried out by Bjorn Pankratz, who received absolutely deserved recognition for this work. In parallel, the father of the series, Michael Hoge, worked on the full-fledged Gothic 3. With her, everything turned out to be much more complicated. After the high level set by “Night of the Crow”, the players were waiting for the coming of the Messiah, no less. The walls of Piranha Bytes were in turmoil. JoWood, which really wanted to clash with Bethesda head-on, demanded a huge open world from the developers. The authors had to obey, but they could not even abandon the business card – manual elaboration of the environment to the last centimeter. The plans for the triquel were incredibly ambitious, which cannot be said about the timeline and budget.

In the first seconds of Gothic 3, it was clear that something went wrong

In the first seconds of Gothic 3, it was clear that something went wrong

In less than four years, a modest studio created a new engine (before that, unsuccessfully trying to cope with the “enemy” Gamebryo), which produced an almost “nextgen” picture and supported all the technologies that were relevant at that time: PhysX physics, Emotion FX2 facial animation, SpeedTree vegetation generation etc. The result of the labors was called Genome – all subsequent studio projects, including ELEX (2017), are based on this particular engine.

The fate of Gothic 3 (2006) painfully resembles Cyberpunk 2077. Only the technical condition of the triquel was much much worse than CD Projekt RED (speaking of the PC version). Not that about 60, even about a stable 30 frames per second with maximum speech quality settings did not go on any configuration. It was almost impossible to go through it to the end on release: if not broken quests (every third), then the killer boars definitely did not allow progress in the plot. In my memory, only one project came out in a more deplorable form – “Corsairs 3”.

Behind a blank wall of bugs, an outstanding role-playing game was barely visible, crushed by the weight of its own ambitions. Gothic 3 offered a completely open and free world to explore without a single download. You yourself were looking for your way to one of the finals. In fact, instead of a storyline, the game set ultimate goals, which could even be reached by accident, past the quests leading to them. It is doubly impressive that the staff of developers did not exceed thirty people (although there was probably a lot of outsourcing), and the budget was modest $ 6 million. This is not only for the game itself, but also for the creation of a new engine. For comparison, Half-Life 2, released two years earlier, cost the entire $ 20 million.

Gothic 3 still looks pretty good, especially if you tweak the draw range in the config file

Gothic 3 still looks pretty good, especially if you tweak the draw range in the config file

For half a year of active work on patches, Piranha Bytes managed to bring the third “Gothic” to a digestible state. If only we could move the release to release the project right away in this form … Usually it is customary to blame the publisher, but JoWood Entertainment simply did not have a choice – the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and could not afford additional expenses. Although the release turned out to be a technical disaster, Gothic 3 sold well and saved JoWood. More precisely, she bought time.

Then, as they say, a muddy story happened. The developers had plans for both a huge addon, which was to become “Night of the Crow” for the triquel, and for the fourth release. But for some reason, the views of Piranha Bytes and JoWood on the future of “Gothic” diverged, and each went his own way. Unfortunately, the rights to the series remained with the publisher.

While fans were saving Gothic 3 with amateur patches, JoWood ordered an add-on for it from the Indian studio Trine Games, which produced the eerie Forgotten Gods (2008). Then a full-fledged sequel called Arcania: Gothic 4 (2010) was entrusted to the quite skillful Spellbound Entertainment, but she was unable to find an approach to the cult series. Although the fourth part was not downright bad, it turned out to be a faded and faceless game. After the release of the mediocre expansion Arcania: Fall of Setarrif (2011), Spellbound Entertainment itself closed, and the Gothic series was officially forgotten for a good decade.

The beautiful picture was perhaps the only definite plus of Arcania: Gothic 4. Just look at this grass!

The beautiful picture was perhaps the only definite plus of Arcania: Gothic 4. Just look at this grass!

⇡ #New is not yet forgotten old

The authors of hits often become their hostages. So it happened with Gothic: the players loved the unique style of Piranha Bytes in the first two “Gothic” so much that many people ignored the strengths of the triquel simply because it was conceptually different from its predecessors. Therefore, with Risen (2009), the studio immediately announced that it was returning to its roots and, in fact, doing the right “Gothic” while JoWood mocked the brand.

According to the developers, many of the ideas that were discussed for the potential Gothic 4 were included in Risen. Maybe it’s good that the piranhas have begun a new trilogy by the will of fate – after all, after the scale of the triquel, a return to a chamber adventure within the series would look like a step back. The authors learned important lessons from the work on Gothic 3, so the release on PC went smoothly (which cannot be said about the version for the Xbox 360), and the creation of all subsequent projects did without drama.

The audience rejoiced at the return to the roots. It became clear that a new series had begun. But this time, the creators dared to experiment right away in the sequel. Back in Night of the Crow, the developers explored the pirate theme, which was developed in the first Risen and became the core for Risen 2: Dark Waters (2012). It was with this game that it became especially noticeable that even when Piranha Bytes tries to step aside, in the end it comes to the same point. Mass Effect 2 and Skyrim have died down on the market, against the background of which Dark Waters looked like an unprepossessing guest from the past.

Risen 2 was particularly disappointing with its lopsided combat system and lack of classic magic.

Risen 2 was particularly disappointing with its lopsided combat system and lack of classic magic.

Возможно, свою роль сыграл и отток «старичков» из студии. После выхода Risen ушел Кай Розенкранц — композитор, благодаря которому «Готика» получила свое незабываемое звучание и один из лучших игровых саундтреков. Домучив Risen 2: Dark Waters, ушел и Михаэль Хоге. Он основал отдельную студию Piranha Bytes RED (хе-хе), куда увел часть людей, работавших над Gothic и Risen. Новообразованная команда начала работу над фантастической Spacetime, которой не суждено было выйти. В 2019 году Piranha Bytes RED тихонько закрыла двери после пяти лет работы над проектом, ни одного кадра из которого общественность так и не увидела. Чем сейчас занимается сам Хоге, неизвестно.

Старая же Piranha Bytes продолжила работу над Risen. Триквел с подзаголовком Titan Lords (2014) снова вернулся к корням и закрыл серию с относительным успехом. Чувствовалась усталость — последняя игра студии как будто была калькой с ее же раннего творчества. Вроде и атрибуты все на месте, и боевую систему привели в божеский вид, но какой-то искры не хватало. Пришло время думать, что же делать дальше. Ответ мы узнали в 2015 году, когда на Gamescom анонсировали ELEX — самый амбициозный проект студии. Устав от фэнтези, авторы взялась за ядреную смесь фантастики, постапокалипсиса… и все того же фэнтези.

Новинка отправилась на полки физических и цифровых магазинов в 2017 году. Иронично, что, поставив себе цель сделать что-то действительно новое, именно с ELEX «пираньи» максимально близко подобрались к эмоциям, за которые так ценят первые части Gothic. Игра дает почувствовать себя первооткрывателем в действительно оригинальном мире, полном манящих тайн и опасностей. Жанровая смесь, как бы дико ни звучала на словах, на деле отлично сработала. Континент Магеллан хотелось исследовать от края до края. После финала, с учетом клиффхэнгера, оставалось лишь ждать продолжения. Обычно студия не томит с планами, но на этот раз молчание затянулось.

ELEX не идеальна, но мир пленил интересным стилем и кучей секретов

ELEX не идеальна, но мир пленил интересным стилем и кучей секретов

⇡#Наследие и перерождение

Над чем Piranha Bytes корпит последние четыре года, пока что остается загадкой. Известно лишь, что работа кипит. Недавно на своем Youtube-канале разработчики подтвердили, что хотели анонсировать новый проект на одной из летних выставок 2020 года, но пандемия внесла свои коррективы. А в конце 2020-го был настоящий вал из крупных ожидаемых проектов, где анонс просто бы затерялся. Поэтому ждем новостей в 2021-ом. И не только о новом проекте «пираний».

Еще во времена работы над Risen 2 студия вернула права на Gothic, однако никаких планов на дальнейшую судьбы серии не озвучила. Новую «Готику» ждали после завершения работ над Titan Lords, но снова фанаты были вынуждены с грустью выдохнуть — все силы авторы бросили на ELEX. В 2018 году Панкрац обнадежил заявлением, что все же собирается вернуться к истории Миртаны, но делом эти слова разработчики так и не подкрепили. Год спустя THQ Nordic купила Piranha Bytes вместе с правами на все три серии. А в декабре 2019 года, как гром среди ясного неба, в Steam появилась Gothic Remake Playable Teaser.

Под создание ремейка образовали новую студию THQ Barcelona (а за несколько дней до публикации этого материала было объявлено, что она получила название Alkimia Interactive). Интерактивный тизер продемонстрировал, что от оригинала осталась лишь сюжетная основа, в остальном же планировалось полное переосмысление культовой игры — практически как Resident Evil 2 Remake. Несмотря на то, что в итоге полноценный ремейк запустили в разработку, создатели объявили, что учтут все пожелания и будут больше придерживаться оригинала, чем было показано в демо. Многие продемонстрированные наработки Gothic Remake Playable Teaser отправятся в утиль.

Приглушить цветовую палитру, убрать навязчивые интерфейсные подсказки и сделать героя чуть менее болтливым — и я готов был кинуть деньги в монитор ради подобного переосмысления

Приглушить цветовую палитру, убрать навязчивые интерфейсные подсказки и сделать героя чуть менее болтливым — и я готов был кинуть деньги в монитор ради подобного переосмысления

Мне, если честно, непонятен смысл покадрового ремейка. У фанатов, которые любят «ту самую» Gothic, оригинал никто не отбирает. Первая часть и двадцать лет спустя прекрасно играется. Но для новых игроков она уже не сработает так, как для нас, «стариков». «Готике» действительно нужно переосмысление — с новыми механиками, но неизменной философией, которая проглядывалась в пробнике ремейка. Увидим, к чему создатели придут в итоге и как поступят с контентом, который в свое время так и не попал в оригинал. Может, спустя двадцать лет мы, наконец, узнаем тайну Хроманина?

Нельзя исключать, что THQ Nordic поручила обновление классики другой студии, потому что сама Piranha Bytes все же корпит в том числе над полноценной новой частью. Творение Spellbound ныне продается под кратким именем ArcaniA и фактически исключено из канона, как и события Forsaken Gods. Может, звезды сложатся удачно, и мы однажды увидим настоящую Gothic 4. Не зря же в студию вернулось несколько сотрудников, работавших еще над первыми двумя выпусками…

Пусть у Gothic не такая огромная армия фанатов, как у той же The Elder Scrolls, но «готическое» сообщество продолжает активную поддержку любимой серии. Для каждой части выходят самые разные модификации от фанатов: обновления с исправлением багов и поддержкой современных систем, мелкие правки, возврат вырезанных функций и возможностей, альтернативный баланс, полноценные конверсии и даже новые проекты на ZenGin. Многие знают про «Диккурик» к Gothic (он даже был на диске русской лицензии, из-за чего некоторые ошибочно принимают аддон за официальный) и «Возвращение» для Gothic 2, но энтузиазм поклонников не угасает по сей день. В этом году для сиквела ожидаются сразу две глобальные модификации: «История Хориниса» и «Хроники Миртаны».

От фанатского творчества по Gothic веет теплом и уютом

От фанатского творчества по Gothic веет теплом и уютом

Отрадно, что спустя столько лет Gothic живет и здравствует не только в наших сердцах, но и на экранах мониторов. При этом у «Готики», как ни странно, практически нет полноценных духовных последователей. Когда-то на лавры претендовала Two Worlds, но приняли ее без особого энтузиазма — проблем хватало. Выделились и украинские разработчики с «Бельтион: Свод Равновесия», которая определенно была вдохновлена в том числе творчеством Piranha Bytes. Можно вспомнить о Venetica, позаимствовавшей у «Готики» ряд особенностей. Не так давно несколько энтузиастов, вдохновившись легендой, анонсировали Farathan (хотя я не стал бы возлагать много надежд — слишком амбициозно для двух человек) с говорящим слоганом «a Gothic-like game». Знакомые черты можно разглядеть и в Darks Souls, но тут скорее имели место точки соприкосновения философий, а не явное вдохновение одного другим.

* * *

Именно своим подходом к гейм-дизайну игры Piranha Bytes так захватывают. Они никогда не были идеальными, но каждый проект придерживался простого кредо: «Игрок — не дурак, чтобы вести его за руку, и важно поощрять любопытство». Неважно, каким будет следующий проект студии — возвращение к Gothic или нечто совершенно новое, — в одном я точно уверен — я снова затеряюсь в нем на полсотни часов.

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