Developing ELEX – A Piranha Bytes Documentation

My name is Lucas Nisbach and we’re standing in front of Piranha Bytes. We are very honoured today to visit this rather nice family home. So let’s take a look inside. So the vision is always the starting point of a project. What is that? A vision is: What do you actually want to achieve? First of all, you have to make sure you have enough people to do the stuff you want to do. So what is the business case? Well, the issue is how you can do the project with a certain budget and within a certain deadline. The idea you have in your head. That means you simply have to go out and find it. I want to make the coolest game ever released. That may be your vision, and then you start thinking about how you’re actually going to achieve that. You don’t only need programmers, even if game developers are still often referred to as programmers, it isn’t like that. There are so many different aspects you have to consider when you develop a game. Otherwise the characters wouldn’t look as good as they do in other computer games. I’m Stefan Kalveram and I work at Piranha Bytes. I started in early 2000 when Piranha Bytes was in the middle of Gothic 1 and we realised that we really needed someone to test the game so it would actually be finished. I found out about it by chance and then started at the same time as Björn. First as a tester, and then we got more involved in QA, and went on to design the release procedures, etc., so everything ran smoothly at all times. And that’s how it all started. So then you write everything you want to include in the game you really want to create. Like with ELEX for example. We wanted a new game setting and to create a fresh gameplay style to make something totally unique. But without moving too far from what constitutes a Piranha Bytes game, because we really like the type of games we develop. Even so, our aim was to shake things up a little. So we put our heads together and came up with a vision of what that kind of world design we were happy with. So I’m responsible for the game design. In particular all the systems aspects. We’re looking closely at the combat system and how to fight the boss enemies, etc.. And I’m also a kind of interface between data and programming. So I do a little bit of everything. If there are problems with the story they send it to me and I try to sort it out. This also takes up a big part of my time. And we then ended up with science fantasy. Which means we wanted to incorporate numerous fantasy elements. To create a kind of post-apocalyptic environment. The world should be dangerous with a futuristic feel. So there’s a bit of sci-fi in there too and we’ve also included some hard surfaces in the environment where the player is moving around, like metal walls and metal buildings that you don’t often see in the fantasy genre. We then write everything down in the form of Wiki documents and then try to put this vision we’ve developed together down on paper so everyone can access it. Wiki is brilliant for this. Everyone can browse the material and you may see a name there. You say: who’s that? What the hell is he doing there? What Guild does he belong to? OK, so are there Guilds? So now just click on the Guild. And then you see all the answers to your questions. My name is Alexander Ockelmann. I’m 29 and I’m the Art Director at Piranha Bytes. They wanted some help with the character designs for Risen 3 and that’s how I came to be here. Art Direction. Can you explain what that is? The Art Director is the person who determines the final and overall look of the game. We in the story and game design areas decide pretty much how the world will be constructed and populated, how many monsters it will have and roughly what they will look like. And to do this we scour the Internet for reference material. So we google and say, OK, the monster should look a bit wolf-like, snapper-like or raptor-like and then we grab a few images and our artists develop them further This gives them their “unique” look. So, what makes this setting for ELEX so different? What produces that distinctive look? Well there are lots of mutant creatures in the world, that have emerged because of this substance, ELEX. The artist now has to sit down and consider what strange beasts he can create or design to incorporate into the game. So the essential role and first task of the art direction division is to look. We decide what direction we want to take and develop, and ensure we can stick to it. Project planning is important to ensure that our artists can pretty much finish everything by the deadline. So we don’t ruin the game in any way. As I said earlier, we’re a small studio and don’t have one person who is solely responsible for the entire management task. Here, everyone has to pitch in. I’m involved in the creature and character design. I even still model. It’s expected in our studio, but we do outsource when we get overwhelmed, and that means we also have to give direct feedback. But I’m still involved. When that’s finished, the artists take over and the monsters are already partially created as a coarse pre-mesh. It’s called a proxy mesh. That’s before we outsource the work. The detailed work on the mesh and the first texturing now takes place when we choose the skin of the model, what materials will be used, whether it’s shiny or slightly gloopy, whether it is transparent, is the monster hairy, and so on. After while it comes back as a model, and when it’s ready we make a rig, at which point we design the creature’s skeleton. The number of node points in this skeleton will determine the number of bones this creature has. The beast then goes into the animation phase, they study it and think: looking at an animal like this, how would it actually move. How would it attack, how would it sleep, how would it walk, run, jump and climb, etc.? Basically the animators then review everything and list which animations we actually need. The things I’ve just mentioned include various animations, turning to the right, turning to the left, turning in a circle, an attack from behind. Stumbling forwards, stumbling backwards, rolling to the left and right, etc. and then there’s a certain number of animations that all have to be timed, named, etc.. We then finish the model and outsource it to the animators as an assignment. That’s basically what happens in our animation process. My name is Victor Karp and I’m the Lead Level Artist here. I’ve been working at Piranha Bytes for three-and-a-half years, and actually started here as an intern. This happened because I tried to continue my studies when I finished school, but I only lasted two weeks! I then abandoned them, and was wondering and actually thinking I should do something I was good at, because I had been building levels for nearly 10 years, as I started building levels for Quake 3 10 years ago, and thought I should really put this talent to good use. I was then asked to work here as the Media Designer. So I’m a trained media designer. And I’m now the Lead Designer here. This is the process for the level design. In the story section we sketch out the main locations. These may be densely populated metropolitan areas, highly dangerous areas, locations with castles or large buildings or where dangerous things happen. Where the player has to engage in combat, etc.. We establish those parameters and also how you move seamlessly from one climatic zone to another, where the story begins, where it all ends. Where the individual factions are located. And the level designers look at it and integrate a height map. We use the terrain engine to create mountains, the entire river network and where and on which side of the mountain to place the city and things like that. I do a whole load of things. So we’re now in the levels area where we work on all the details of the look of the world, so we get all the details of the plot and story we have to deliver. What the rough layout of the world looks like and what we have to include in those areas. What precisely is involved when creating the objects, the textures, and how we will fill the world with objects and features we have built ourselves. We don’t all just model, you could say we’re true “jacks-of-all-trades”. Everyone in the team does everything that is possible the level, everything that makes up that level, while of course using our specific skills, and each team member focuses on that aspect. How long the asset takes depends on the specific object. But you can’t generalise; sometimes it takes half an hour, sometimes a whole day. A highly complex asset could take several days or even weeks. So what sets me apart personally is that I lead this area and have to be acutely aware of the whole picture and I keep everything on track. We must try to meet our deadlines and allocate people efficiently so nobody is waiting around and everyone can work in parallel, that way we remain on schedule. We develop “mood paintings” with the concept artists and designers, and these comprise a few rough images of what the world could look like and the particular mood and atmosphere of that world. So is this section more depressing, or is that area more cheerful, does the sun shine occasionally or is it always raining, and so on. So the weather is really important, which plays a significant role, and the level designers are responsible for all that. The overall scene lighting and weather in that particular climatic zone. Is there snow, hot sun and things like that. There are always different influences, even on the particle effects, that are added later. Then it goes back to the art department. You just have to bear in mind that there are so many different elements and the more diverse the assets, the more complicated it is to create them. So this is where the Lead Level Designer, Victor, has to ensure we aren’t becoming totally megalomaniac and are building everything 15 times over, and we must also make sure that the world is still essentially post-apocalyptic with numerous ruins, and everything has to be arranged so you can also use certain assets in multiple times, for example a chair may appear in the base of one of the factions and crop up again somewhere in the ruins. And also you check that you’re not building every single table, sure, they appear many times in the game, but what should they look like, etc.. The artists and level designers work very closely together, so if one says we need some kind of boiler or metal thing or whatever, sometimes you build can build these things yourself and sometimes you don’t have such a clear idea what it should look like to harmonise with the world and so on. So we ask the concept artists to provide some ideas and examples, etc.. And that’s what happens in the level design area. My name is Harald Iken, my full name is Harald Bernd Alexander Arnold Iken, I’m the grand old age of 34 and work at Piranha Bytes as one of the story writers. Like many other young people, I was always a fan of computer games and then thought I could get involved in something that interested me. I was very active in forums and I don’t think people are as active in forums now, but I really love the forum culture and it gave me the chance to have direct contact with the developers themselves. And then I somehow learned that, well, they were attending a computer show and I grabbed my brother, went to this show and then met them in person. So for me at that time, meeting Piranha Bytes was today’s equivalent of seeing the stars from some reality TV show. Then I met them, and kept meeting then until at some point at this show they started to take notice of me. So, he posts in forums, he’s really active, he’s driving us nuts, he won’t leave us in peace, he’s getting on our nerves so much that why don’t we hire him so he can do this for us 24/7? I’m Amadeus, and I do game design, story design and things like that here at Piranha Bytes. I was studying game design back then. And then I met someone who worked here who was one of my lecturers, Mattes, so my first contact with Piranha Bytes was through him. I was then working at a small, indie studio that seemed to be going under, and its future was really uncertain, so on a crazy whim I wrote to them, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to send a mail to see what happened and I very quickly heard back from Björn, a few days later I think. He sent me a test, and I started here shortly afterwards. The story team has to establish a whole lot of things at the start of a project, because the story section decides the look of the setting, and the characters that will populate it, what NPCs will feature, what stories will be told and we have to establish basically how the common thread will play out through the entire game. Then you’re faced with bare ground with no towns or cities, no forests or woods, not a single rock or stone or anything, just doll-like figures, because the men look exactly like the women and all the men even look the same. So they’re basically all identical, because we have one mesh for all the figures. So Peter, Paul and Mary are the same, and you can only identify them by their placeholder names, so in the story department you have to imagine roughly how it’s going to work because the level doesn’t yet exist. I’m one of the early birds in the company, just like the whole the story team in fact. So I work on character design with the other members of the team, the rough story, we do of course have the main story as an outline in front of us and we then input our own ideas. We look to see what characters could fit in here, what challenges or problems would they face, how would they talk, we have to breathe life into the characters. But not only do we have to develop the characters, but some of the gameplay mechanics too, but not specifics, we just suggest possible directions, provide some feedback, yeah, I would say to simply bring the world alive. This also applies to the NPCs as they go about their daily tasks, that’s also part of my job. I fill chests with stuff, and I would say in quotes “simple things”, but that’s also part of my remit as a story guy. What I like particularly is the extent of the teamwork here. So I may write a quest and you’re often at home and think, OK, I’m designing this quest that includes these NPCs and I then give it to Björn or Harry. They then play it and you look at it again from another perspective and then think: “Hey, it would be so cool if we could do that like this”, Harry has an idea and something suddenly develops that you would never have thought of and you think… I can’t do that now without spoiling it, it would be really hard not to spoil it. But the mere fact of this collaboration, where you can exchange creative ideas and suddenly things emerge that you didn’t actually plan, but which are totally cool. But the player must have something interesting to do in the game, and not just “Fetch the bucket”, “Ah, that monster is really starting to annoy me” and “Oh, by the way, I lost my fork over there”. It’s nice enough, but basically quite boring. So we are forced to think hard about how to tell interesting stories. How do we emphasise the relationships between the characters embedded in the fabric of this complex world. When the basic outline of the quests is finished, we then focus on the characters and write dialog for them. So what happens when I click on the character; does he immediately launch into his first line of dialog or do I have to prompt him if he’s there in the corner with: “Are you feeling tired?” or “What are you doing here?”, or does the character present himself in some shape, form or manner. If a guy is standing outside the warehouse with a clipboard you click on him and can guess what he’s going to say: “I’m at work. Don’t disturb me” or “The delivery hasn’t arrived, go and collect it” or something like that. So they’re very believable. It’s really important for us that the quests in the story are interesting and that players always discover something new, that they’re not all the same, and that the characters are as varied as possible, that the dialog is written in an interesting and sometimes humorous way. We want to be more grown up with Elex, but that doesn’t mean we want to come across as dull and boring. But we do want to try and inject some of our old Piranha Bytes charm, while also attempting to incorporate some new aspects into the game. This is a really exciting challenge for us; the world is vast and we have so many different characters and diverse factions, and it’s thrilling to see how it’s all developing and growing. My name is Philipp Krause, and I’m the Lead Programmer at Piranha Bytes. I’m basically responsible for the programmers and the transfers to console. This is my job and I also do some programming myself when I can get round to it. Well I joined Piranha Bytes and it happened fairly quickly. So I was previously at Wings Simulations working on the “Söldner” series, but the studio sadly folded and I had my interview the very next day, and that was thanks to my colleague Roman, and it wasn’t very long until I joined the Gothic 3 team. The programmers are constantly busy keeping us up to date and we decided to develop our in-house engine production as we have done for some time now, simply because we didn’t want to reinstall our numerous workflow mechanisms and technical game engine elements totally from scratch. When you licence an engine you get a lot of other things and freebies with it, compatibility with consoles for example, like PC, PlayStation and/or Xbox. But the downside is that we’d have to discard our previously tried-and-tested workflow tools or post-program or replace the modules and everything. So we decided against that, so we could work permanently on the game and even every section, asset category, story and everything else, and we can then bring our engine right bang up to the state-of-the-art in terms of how the rendering works, how the DirectX pipeline is drilled and so on. And also the transfer to the new consoles. So that’s what I do every day – I basically monitor the programming and head up the section. Sure, we have meetings now and then. I try to do as much programming myself as I can, because it was essentially what I originally wanted to do. Of course there’s always lots of organisation stuff to take care of or whatever else crops up. And there’s plenty to do, because we have a very small programming section compared to other studios that have to do all that. So we have a lot of really good people who take care of all the technical things and we’ve even released a product on PlayStation 4, Risen 3, so we already have a certain amount of experience with the next gen consoles. Only now with the conversion to DirectX 11 it’s a totally different situation, we’d have to bulldoze the whole lot and do everything again. But I’m very confident because they’re such a committed and a terrific team. I have to emphasise that. As for team, I’m often asked what I’m most proud of. And that has to be the team! Simply because we have so many idealists here, lots of people who believe in what we’re doing, who enjoy working in a relaxed atmosphere in such a congenial workplace where we have so many freedoms, when we come, when we go and all sorts of things. We introduced fixed core working hours that everyone should have so we spend at least five hours a day sitting down together and communicating and not a situation where people come and go and never speak to each other. Anyway this is also easy to manage because we have lots of cool people here, who are dedicated to their specific areas and who don’t shy away from heavy responsibilities and who like creating and learning new things, and it’s fun to see how it has evolved over the years. And for me personally, I can’t think of any job I’d rather do than the one I’m doing now.

30 thoughts on “Developing ELEX – A Piranha Bytes Documentation

  1. I would love that you guys work on improving animations and combat for the next game, the rpg elements in your games are pretty solid as always.

  2. Einen treuen Fan habt ihr jetzt mit ELEX sowieso gewonnen und einen neuen Abonnementen auch. Gothic und Risen habe ich nicht gespielt, aber dafür ELEX umso mehr gesuchtet. Hab zwar zum Ausprobieren Risen 3 bestellt, aber freue mich natürlich sehr, wenn ELEX 2 rauskommt. Tolle Arbeit von euch.

  3. Bought new pc, first time after 10years, just to play ELEX. Now im on the second playthrough:) My favorite game studio since G1:) Piranha, you are the masters of world creations, love your attention too small details, almost cried when saved Jack from canibals:)

  4. Sehr interessante Dokumentation. Ihr von Piranha Bytes seid die einzigen Entwickler, denen ich vollkommen vertraue und von denen ich wirklich jedes Spiel sehnsüchtig erwarte. Bis jetzt haben mir alle eurer Spiele wahnsinnig gut gefallen. Die Gothic Spiele sind meine absoluten Lieblinge und auch Risen mag ich sehr. Deshalb hatte ich Elex sogar vorbestellt, was ich normalerweise so gut wie nie mache und es ist einfach ein mega geiles Spiel geworden. Ihr wirkt alle sehr Sympatisch und man merkt, dass ihr noch Herzblut in eure Projekte steckt. Danke dafür und ich hoffe, dass ihr noch lange so weiter macht wie bisher. 🙂

  5. Risen 3 war so schlecht dass es nicht schlimmer werden kann, Leute lasst das dumme zeug mit den see schlachten, es ist billig anbiedern an konsolen. Sonst kaufe ich euer Zeug nicht mehr. Elex ist ok

  6. I am 50 hours in on this game at level 29 and absolutely loving it. I played Gothic way back when it first came out and this is such a joy to play. I hope you do many more games in the future.

  7. Sagt mal… Kann es sein, dass Elex ein Prequel zur Gothic-Reihe ist? 😉

    Ich freue mich auf jeden Fall schon auf den zweiten Teil – die Story ist top und Eure Spiele sind sowieso immer etwas besonderes!

    Liebe Grüße und alles Gute – ein Liebhaber Eures Studios, seit Gothic 1

  8. Kann man nicht einfach "Gegenstände / Elemente" von Bethesda nutzen und ummodelieren, anstatt mühevoll alles kpl. neu erstellen?
    Bei Fallout 4 und TES5 gibt es doch alles.

  9. Ich habe Elex die letzten Wochen erst durchgespielt und bin begeistert. Das Spiel hat mir genau so viel Spass gemacht wie ein Witcher 3 oder Assassin's Creed. Ich freue mich riesig auf Elex 2!

  10. Gothic 2 war mein aller erstes RPG. Ich wusste in meinen noch jüngeren Jahren garnicht das dieses Spiel aus Deutschland kommt und nahm den Ruhrpottslang im Mittelalterspiel für selbstverständlich. Schließlich wunderte ich mich warum andere RPGs so seltsam sind? In WoW fragte ich nach einem LVL up wo die Lernpunkte notiert sind. Das waren Zeiten 😀

  11. Tolles Team! Bodenständig, kollegial und kreativ! Ich glaube um sich im Gamedesignbereich zu verwirklichen ist das ein tolles Unternehmen. Bleibt so wie ihr seid!

  12. Was ein Zufall. Ich sehe das Video und bin der 2020 der es liked 😀 Aber mal Spaß bei Seite. Schönes Video. Ich wünschte sowas gäbe es öfters von euch

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