Do you know...? #001 Gothic Reloaded ModMay 8, 2021
We were guests of Christian and Felix, who run the podcast "Start The Game Already!". Unfortunately, the audio is only available in German and our international fans have to content themselves with this transcript.
Felix: Welcome to our latest podcast! A podcast I'm particularly looking forward to, as it's about modding, a topic I'm very interested in because of my own excursions into the field back in my youth. I'll be talking about that, as is proper for a Start The Game Already podcast, with Christian. Hello!
Christian: Hello Felix.
Felix: But regular listeners will know that I don't get far with Christian when it comes to this topic, and that's why we've brought in reinforcements. Pierre, the head of the Gothic Reloaded project. Hello and thank you for being here.
Pierre: Hello, you two.
Felix: This is exactly the project we want to talk about today. A mod that at first glance improves the graphics of Gothic 1, but according to the blog entries on your homepage is perhaps even "More Than A Texture Patch". So that our audience knows who they are dealing with here, first a few words about yourself. You were born in 1992, you are from the area of Düsseldorf and you studied computer science. Who doesn't know you as Pierre, might know your gamertag "ThielHater", which you use in the Gothic forum and generally in your online presence. Also, I've seen that you've already released a texture patch under the same name, the last version of which is from 2007. I was 10 years old back then, that's quite a long time ago. [All laugh] You've released stuff on Gothic and you're still on it, it's very fascinating. But before we get to the modding and everything, let me introduce the game by Christian – for all of you who, like me, were too young to play Gothic and haven't caught up.
Christian: Shame on you Felix, for not catching up.
Felix: It's just not playable well today, I tried. Maybe when the mod is finished then.
Christian: I'm allowed to play out my full strength here and say a bit about the story, which is the most interesting thing in the whole game anyway. Gothic 1 is a single player role playing game with a medieval setting. It was developed by Piranha Bytes, a studio that has at least an excellent reputation in Germany, especially in the early 2000s. This game came out in 2001. It was followed just a year later by the wildly popular Gothic 2, then there was a very unpopular Gothic 3 – mainly because of never-ending bugs. For the sake of completeness, however, I'll mention the deeply hated stepchild Arcania, which itself knows about its shame and therefore didn't want to call itself Gothic 4 in the first place. [Pierre laughs] Piranha Bytes also produced the Risen series. I've played all of those games as well, actually quite happily. I'm very proud of my Risen 3 platinum trophy on the PlayStation 3. Then Elex came out in 2017 and the studio was bought out by THQ Nordic in 2019. They've been on a worldwide buying spree for a few years now, and they just acquired Piranha Bytes. For some time it has been rumored that Piranha Bytes now want to publish Elex 2 under THQ Nordic's financing or at least is working on it. But it is not known for sure, it is still not officially confirmed. There's also the Gothic 1 remake, which we'd like to talk a bit about with Pierre later at the end. Gothic 1 – it's safe to say – was a very popular and successful game from Germany, that achieved its biggest successes mainly in Germany. It had a few characteristics, for which this game is still praised today and which are mostly mentioned when I ask other people about Gothic 1. The rough language was influenced by Ruhrdeutsch - the dialect from the region of Piranha Bytes, which was coined by the mining and industrial worker culture - and led to unforgettable dialogues that were otherwise less known from games, especially at that time. In addition to that, there was a rather dry humor, which suited the rough and dense world, and of course the open world, in which you can decide for different factions. The plot is actually not that imaginative or unique. Namely, the people of the kingdom are invaded by orcs and are at war. The war then requires raw materials, first and foremost [magical] ore, which is mined in a prison colony. We play a nameless criminal who is thrown into this colony as punishment. I mean that literally and figuratively. First, we are actually thrown in at a high angle, where we are then greeted kindly by three men from the colony with the words "Welcome to the colony." and then just knocked out. That's such a great moment and, by the way, a good foreshadowing of how things will be in the colony. But it's also figurative, as the colony is surrounded by a magical barrier that initially only surrounded the prison camp, but then for unknown reasons expanded to encompass the entire valley. When this happened, the prisoners revolted and gained certain privileges. They continue to mine ore for the king, who is still at war with the orcs, but at least they get some supplies from him. This is how a colony came into being, which encloses the original Old Camp in the middle, the New Camp in the west, the Swamp Camp in the east, the Mines in the north and finally a kind of Orc territory in the south. As a player, you must first orient yourself and fight your way through this colony by joining one of the three camps, which next to it represent the three factions and allow for distinctly different gameplay experiences. Each of the factions has its own motives, for example, some want to break out by destroying the barrier. The factions aren't necessarily friendly with each other either, so there's all sorts of things to discover and witness, and you do all that while trying to climb up the camp's internal hierarchy and then steadily transform from criminal to hero. That's my short summary.
Felix: Ah yes, but today we want to talk less about the game itself, but more about modding and there I would say, we first talk about Gothic modding in general. Because basically there are some games that allow you to tinker with them very easily and with pleasure, where the developer really supports that. But on the other hand, there are developers who really don't want anyone to tinker with their work, and the community has to develop their own tools over a very long period of time in order to get at some of the little things. How exactly is that with Gothic?
Pierre: At that time the developers of the engine, the so-called Mad Scientist, decided to develop and release a mod kit for Gothic 1 in cooperation with Piranha Bytes. You could download it for free on the internet and find almost all the tools you need to develop your own Gothic mod. Over the years, more tools were developed, which take away work from the modder and also make things possible that were not possible with the original mod kit.
Felix: That means – for me as a comparison – I can imagine it as with the Elder Scrolls games, where at the release or usually shortly after then a mod kit comes out and then there were, I think, both for Oblivion and for Skyrim afterwards these script extenders, which then created even more extensive possibilities?
Pierre: I must say that I haven't modded for Skyrim yet, but the comparison fits quite well.
Felix: You said the development kit was co-developed by Piranha Bytes themselves, so in that case they definitely supported the modding scene and the modders didn't have to work against the developer.
Pierre: Yes, that's right. They kind of voluntarily "put it into the hands of the world" back then. I would say that Piranha Bytes did not develop it themselves. The engine on which Gothic is based, the so-called ZenGin, was developed by three students, who in turn sold their engine to Piranha Bytes at that time, on which Gothic was then developed and the tools they developed for Piranha Bytes were additionally published again later. Piranha Bytes did not actually develop the engine themselves.
Felix: Do you happen to know if they were allowed to publish that, that is, if that was somehow in agreement with Piranha Bytes or if they did it on their own?
Pierre: I strongly assume that they were allowed to do that. At that time, there was quite a consensus that it was useful and that it was a small gift to give to people. In retrospect, it was an absolutely great decision, because I'm convinced it's what kept the Gothic brand alive for so long. With Gothic 2 later, it wasn't quite so easy. Piranha Bytes had a new publisher at that time, JoWood, and apparently there were some reservations about releasing a mod kit for Gothic 2.
Felix: Did one come then?
Pierre: Yes, there was one that came out, too. You have to give credit to NicoDE, whose real name is Nico Bendlin. He wrote a tool back then, shortly before the Gothic 1 mod kit came out – NicoVDFS it was called and later GothicVDFS – which could read and write the archive or container format of Gothic. Piranha Bytes had noticed that and then they established contact. They later hired him as a programmer, he then worked on Gothic 2 and expanded the engine. He was also the driving force behind the release of a mod kit for Gothic 2. So from what I've heard – I've talked to him personally. At that time he was the driving force that convinced JoWood "Hey, we should release a mod kit for Gothic 2 as well".
Felix: Yes, I think that's always a great decision. So mods are really – apart from if you want to do something like Game As A Service nowadays – a great way to keep games alive in the long run and at the same time with less effort for the developer. I just checked again for fun before recording. Skyrim is actually in the more mod-friendly Standard Edition higher in the list on Steam of games played by a larger number of people right now than the actually better and later out Special Edition, and that's one hundred percent due to mod-friendliness. I don't really understand the developers who want to exclude something like that from the start and – as you also just said – mods are just great to keep games alive in the long run. You can see that in your project. You're still working on it and there are obviously still people who are interested in it.
Pierre: Yeah, you have to say, there are of course economic considerations, why you might say "We don't want to release a mod kit, because we want to get the next part in the store and we want to keep sales up for that". But in the case of Gothic, I think it just totally paid off.
Felix: I think so too. It's also still advertising for the next part, if the previous part is still being played and doesn't go down completely three weeks after release. [Pierre laughs] Are there any bigger ongoing projects for Gothic besides you and a modding scene in general?
Pierre: I assume so. There were a lot of other big projects, like Legend of Ahssûn or Odyssey, that are finished now, and we're still a little bit behind. I have to say, I'm not really up to date on what other projects are going on right now. But I'd say the community is definitely still alive and working.
Felix: Of the things you mentioned, I'm sure there are some total conversions in there with new storylines and stuff?
Pierre: Exactly, both of them [laughs].
Felix: How is that? Could you theoretically combine your mod, which focuses mainly on the graphics, later with such total conversions, which do not add new items or generally bring new objects, but mainly new story?
Pierre: Yes, it would definitely be possible to incorporate our graphical assets, I would say – our graphical content – into other mods. Unfortunately, there are not so many mods for Gothic 1 itself, but there are a lot for Gothic 2, which could only profit from it to a limited extent, because the Valley of Mines just looks different than in the first part of the series.
Felix: Okay. When I was preparing everything, I took a look at the tools you had written down in our document and I got a bit stuck on this Ninja, because – if I understand it correctly – it ensures that you can combine mods and patches with each other and don't have to decide between the texture mod and a total conversion with story. And that will also work for your mod?
Pierre: Yes, exactly. Ninja is, you've already mentioned it, a completely new advance – one of the two very current developments in Gothic modding – which makes it possible to implement things that were previously only possible as a mod, also as a patch. This has mainly historical reasons. You have different asset classes. For example, you have textures – these are the images that you put on the world. Then you have the 3D meshes – the world itself, any objects and items – and of course you have the scripts and those are the main problem. Because in Gothic to design the world concretely, that's actually all scripted. In a separate script language that the three developers of the engine also designed, it's called Daedalus, and it describes what NPCs there are, what dialogs there are, what items there are. Almost everything is described in it and these scripts are then compiled, that is, they are packed together into one file and you can virtually just throw this one file at Gothic and say "Run this, these scripts". For a very long time there was no way that you could extend on that [because you can just throw Gothic a state and say "Run this one"] and Ninja has finally lifted that very annoying limitation so that you can now write script-based patches and insert individual NPCs or fix individual bugs.
Felix: Does that still exist in newer games, apart from Gothic? So, that mods are exclusive in a way? That's something I've never heard of before, until I read about it.
Pierre: I wouldn't know if that's the case elsewhere. To be honest, it's rather untypical. The mod kit comes with a lot of tools, but we have this limitation that you can only play one mod at a time, which is different from other games. And as I just mentioned, Ninja has finally removed that restriction. In principle, you can now implement everything as a patch and that's wonderful, because then you can also stack modifications and play them at the same time, so to speak. But Ninja is only the end of a chain in that respect. There were other projects before that, which added tools to Gothic modding. Names to mention in this context are Ikarus by Sektenspinner and LeGo by Lehona and Gottfried. You don't have access to the engine yourself and you can't change certain things in the game from within these scripts. That's kind of the interface that is offered to you as a modder and you don't have all the freedom of choice that a developer would have now otherwise. Ikarus was the first point to break out of that. Sektenspinner at that time found a security hole in the component of the engine that processes these scripts. Then it was possible for the first time to break out of the scripts and change something directly in the engine. And that actually sounds a lot like hacking [Christian laughs] – which it actually is. You have to imagine it like this: A process works with memory, which is addressed linearly. That is, you can imagine it like a number line with integers from 0 to "a pretty big number" and each number is an address, so to speak. You can think of it, in principle, as an incredibly long road [with houses aside]. Each number addresses a memory cell and there is information in it. But what we need is a pointer to any memory cell in order to be able to read or write it, and that became possible for the first time with Ikarus – because Sektenspinner found a security hole in the component of the engine that processes the scripts. Then we could read and write in the memory of the game at will, so to speak, and once you can do that, then you can implement basically anything. Based on this, there was later the script package LeGo, which expanded the whole thing and made it even more easily available for modders.
Christian: That means you basically hacked the engine so that you have more leeway and can implement what you want to do according to your ideas and don't have to adhere to the developers' restrictions?
Pierre: If you want to break it down into two sentences, that's exactly what we did. That was first possible with Ikarus and LeGo and it was groundbreaking! It really fired up the modding scene back then, from then on basically everything was possible. And that's why it has to be mentioned in the history of Ninja, because both projects broke down limitations for us that had existed since the release of the mod kit. And they certainly weren't meant in a bad way, but it was developed in such a way that it wasn't possible – but that wasn't a bad will. And if you then know which information is in the memory at which address, then you can simply do everything.
Felix: We've learned now, there is definitely – even if only a small one – still a modding scene around Gothic 1. And then there is, you told us in the preliminary conversation, even an – if I remember correctly – almost annual modder meeting, where the scene meets, gets together and... Yes, what exactly do you talk about there?
Pierre: That's right, on average every one and a half years. Sometimes one year, sometimes two years, sometimes at the beginning, sometimes at the end, we always meet in the middle of Germany in this magical triangle of cities Kassel-Erfurt-Göttingen. There we find a place to stay. Most of the time there are one or two people who take over the organization. This is done via the forum www.worldofgothic.de, which is the first and best place on the net for Gothic and modding anyway. It is open for everyone, you can come there even if you are not a modder. You sign up, pay a small fee for accommodation and food. Then we meet there for a weekend, discuss our projects, problems, help each other and present our projects. But we also go for a walk or have a barbecue or play a round of tennis. So it's a very fun – very family-like, I would almost say – get-together that we have there. Now because of Covid-19, it also took place online for the first time last year, but it wasn't really the same.
Felix: Yeah sure, it probably always has a bit of a LAN party atmosphere on site?
Pierre: Yes, you can compare that well, but it's more like a LAN party with work – and then someone also has to cook and clean up. But that always finds itself and that's just a great atmosphere. [Felix laughs]
Christian: When you say working now, does that mean that you don't just exchange theoretical ideas and present your projects to each other, but that you also continue to work on the individual projects on site?
Pierre: Exactly, mostly at specific points where someone says "I can't solve this, who has a solution for problem XY?". Then you sit down together and say "I've done this before, look here and there, this is how it works".
Christian: Wow, that's great! Enthusiastic people who are working on their projects come together and help each other. It's a scene where you completely miss what's happening in the background on the community level. So that's... I'm really excited about what's happening there. In a regular rhythm about a game that is now celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Pierre: We are a bunch of crazy people. In terms of size, there are usually about 20 to 30 people who meet there.
Christian: That's already a medium-sized developer studio [laughs].
Felix: I was just about to say. Just for the fan base and from such an old game and then still so specific in modding, that's already a pretty big group, I think.
Felix: Now I think we can slowly move towards your own project and start by talking about your history with Gothic and how you came to Gothic, especially modding it.
Pierre: Yes, I have to go back a little bit, that was a very long time ago. It was around... It happened around 2000 to 2004, that was the time. For your younger listeners this might sound a bit like "Grandpa tells about the war", but I would like to point it out again: That was barely 20 years ago! At that time, my parents got divorced, so I got two new stepbrothers – almost only profits – and my older stepbrother was the only one of us who had a PC at that time. That was... I don't know, it had 400 MHz single core and 64 MB RAM. We played games on it – mostly he played and we were allowed to watch. You couldn't just download the games from the internet! That was the time when DSL was rolled out slowly all over Germany. Back then – we lived in a village with 4,000 inhabitants – we went to the gas station in the center of the village. There's a big main street, there's this gas station, and that was simply the biggest magazine store within walking distance for us. That's where we got Computer Bild Spiele [a magazine about computer gaming] back then, and when I look in their online archive today, when I see the covers, I still know exactly which issues we had. Then we just installed a few demos and looked a bit. There were always a few full versions, a number of demos and of course many articles in the magazine. A few years later, it was maybe 2003 to 2004, we got the idea to buy Gothic as a full price game. At that time we took the bus to Saturn (consumer electronics retailer) and I think it was already on the Software Pyramide (pyramid-shaped display on which there are only discounted games). They're still around at Saturn today, aren't they? [Felix laughs.]
Christian: At least I saw one before Covid-19 the last time I was in a store like that.
Pierre: That's when we got Gothic, we played it and we were all just totally flashed by the game. We had a certain inclination, I'll say, to the middle ages anyway, because our parents liked to go to medieval markets and that was just great. This dark and dangerous world, this rough tone. What words you could sometimes throw at the NPCs in some dialogues, you couldn't imagine that at the time. Later I got my own PC. I played Gothic on it, because I liked it very much. I really thought about it, but I don't remember exactly how it came together. I was a weird kid back then, I always wanted to click through all the menus, look at everything, try everything out, customize everything somehow possibly too. I had gotten a free demo of Adobe Photoshop from somewhere, Photoshop CS 2 was it back then, and then I thought "Hey, I can edit textures in this game somehow. That would be awesome!". And then I created this little texture patch, which is not too nice by today's standards, and published it. Later on I had the idea to make the whole thing a little bit bigger, in principle "rework the whole graphics of Gothic". But I was so realistic that I thought "Wait, I need a team for that" and then I created a thread on worldofgothic.de in the editing subforum it was, I think. And then I said "Hey there, I'm going to do this. Who would like to participate?". And then a few people got in touch, most of whom are still involved today.
Christian: I have a couple of questions about that. First, you released that texture patch you just talked about in 2007. You were about 15 years old, if I've done the math correctly. Where did you get the knowledge to do all of that if you had also gotten your first PC not that long before? I remember when I was 15 I was always excited when I was able to somehow patch Pharaoh so I could play it again in better resolution or something.
Pierre: [laughs] Yes, I took a look, I actually still have the invoice from my first PC, which I got in 2003. And, how did I acquire that? Actually – I really have to say – self-taught. I can no longer understand it exactly, one thing led to another and then I tried it out.
Felix: Not bad. I remember when I was starting out and got a little bit into programming... I think I only succeeded because I had a much older, good friend who had already started studying computer science when I was about that age. He also had a lot of knowledge about it and introduced me to it as far as I wanted and needed to know. But to teach yourself that, I imagine very difficult. Do you know approximately how long it took until you were at a level where you could really achieve something?
Pierre: You have to say, I've been... so creating a texture patch is of course only a very small fraction of what's possible in Gothic modding and you don't need to know that much. You only have to know how to open the archive format of Gothic, how to get the textures, how to edit them and how to put them back afterwards and there are actually online articles on worldofgothic.de that explain how certain things work. And also the mod kit itself has a documentation, which is not fully comprehensive, but still sufficient to get started with it. It's very technical, though, and you have to bite your way through it. It's not comparable to... I don't know, "Unreal Engine, I'll just click something together here", but it worked.
Christian: And that means, your first modding experiences with this texture patch, that then moved you to deal with these topics? That is, you really started on the occasion of Gothic 1 to teach yourself these things? And not that you already knew these things before out of self-interest and then thought "Oh, I'll do that together with Gothic!"?
Pierre: I can't really say that anymore, looking back. It was my first project, but I don't remember if I tried any other little things before that.
Christian: Why Gothic 1 and not Gothic 2? It's a bit bigger and has different graphics, if you will, in terms of the color palette, for example. So why just this dark Gothic 1?
Pierre: I liked Gothic 1 more for purely subjective reasons, so I was more willing and thought "Yeah, come on, you can do something in that direction". Gothic 2 was also for me almost too colorful, almost a bit too much fantasy – especially the dragons. Gothic 1 was simply much, much more exciting.
Christian: And then you did... is it too early to call it a life's work? [Felix and Pierre laugh] Dared a big project, the Gothic Reloaded. I think it already has such a meaningful name "Reloaded", that's a really good name. What were your initial concepts of this larger project, after the first texture patch you did? What was your first vision and how did it change over time?
Pierre: I've noticed that not much has changed. The plan back then was "Let's rework the whole world," so if possible, make all the textures and the whole world itself a little bit rounder and rework the items. The only thing that has really been dropped since then is the reworking of animations. At that time I wanted to make them more fluid, but later I had to realize that this is really a very special topic in Gothic modding, where not so many people are familiar with and which didn't interest me that much. And we entered into cooperations with other mod projects. For example, first with the Carnage Graphics Patch by Mark56, which replaces various items and does it on a very good level. In a style that also fits ours. Secondly, Gothic Weapons Rebuilt by CeeX, which reworked all the weapons and that also fit our style very well. So we said "Let's just work together".
Felix: Now you have mentioned your style several times. Can you describe it somehow, so how would you put into words what your mod looks like?
Pierre: Just as close to the original as possible, with a little creative freedom now and then.
Felix: For example?
Pierre: An example of freedom? Of course, we found that it's a bit tiring when you work on such a finished vision and have little influence of your own on it, little freedom. That's why we decided, "Maybe we'll do the texture here a little differently" or "We'll add a few new corridors to the revised world mesh in the Sleeper Temple, for example" or "Maybe we'll place a few new objects".
Christian: That means you moved away a bit from just upgrading textures and actually changed something in the level design. Do you have some kind of guideline? Did you say "We're not going to make any significant changes" or did you say "We're going to build in what we've always wanted to have"?
Pierre: That goes a bit into the point of organization. We have a forum, a sub-forum on worldofgothic.de, where we organize ourselves as a team and there it's usual that we coordinate when we do something serious. But we all know each other for such a long time now and everyone knows in principle which liberties he can take without having to discuss anything with us. Everyone has a little bit of their own freedom.
Felix: It sounds like you work in parallel and don't necessarily know what the others are doing all the time. How does that work exactly? If there more or less everyone sits at home now and works on some little thing, in what way do you divide the work and talk to each other?
Pierre: We have a presentation thread, that's what we call it internally, where everyone shows the current status of what they're doing from time to time and then of course there's the request from one member to the other "Can you help me with this?" or "Can you create a texture here for the part of the level that I'm reworking?". But basically we're already working on separate aspects or tasks at the same time. We also tried for a while to keep track of who was doing what. But then we found out that it doesn't work for us, so we just let it go. In principle, everyone runs freely.
Felix: Can each of you then do enough, I say, to be able to work alone? So that it doesn't happen all the time that someone needs someone else from another department to finish their work? So if there's someone who can model but can't do any image processing and then can't get any textures on his model. That doesn't happen?
Pierre: It happens, but it's not really a problem because of the nature of our project. Now, if someone reworks the 3D mesh like you just gave as an example, they still have the original texture that they can put on top of it and align it. He has a commitment from the 2D artist that the new texture will look the same and be layouted the same way. Then you don't have to make a big deal about it. But it can happen that you say, "I need the texture for this spot here, I need to know exactly what it will look like later," and then the other person interrupts his work and continues at that spot.
Christian: One must emphasize at this point again, because all these explanations now already sound as if you are mega organized and professional and as if you do this more or less full time: This is a hobby of all of you, isn't it? That came from your project idea and then you just got other people who share this vision and you do it all in your spare time. Then the question also arises for me, how does that work? Doesn't it happen then that in the course of the years individual people drop out or lose interest or new people join? And how do you make the transition, how can you transfer tasks from one person to another?
Pierre: That's a good question. Of course, we're not immune to someone dropping out at some point. I mean, that's just life. We all evolve, our interests change, we may not have time for some reason. But we have a core of people who are still in it for whatever reason, and they still enjoy it. [All laugh] We've always taken on new people, of course. We're also always willing to take on new people – with one small caveat. They have to be able to do something, unfortunately the past has shown that. It doesn't pay to teach people something [from scratch], because it's those people who have the greatest tendency to leave the team again. It's more worthwhile for us if people join us who already have experience, but of course it doesn't have to be on a professional level. There has to be a little bit of previous experience. And in terms of "If someone leaves now, how do you continue in their place?", we have a project archive, which is a so-called repository. There's a server on the internet where we upload our files, and they're all wonderfully organized and named – and I don't mean that ironically, it just has to be that way – and everyone has a local copy of it on their computer. And no matter what happens, this status will never be lost. Then you can also get an overview of who has already done what to also make sure that work is not done twice. If, for example, someone somehow reworks something at the Old Camp, sits down one weekend and says "I'm going to make the roofs of all the huts beautiful, I'm going to model the individual beams". Then he does that, uploads it and then basically everyone in the team has it and it will never get lost because such a repository is version-safe. This means that there are copies of all previous versions of all files.
Christian: Maybe for people like me, who still can't imagine this work one hundred percent, we are talking about the fact that you have a whole team behind you. Can you try to give us a rough idea of the tasks in your team that are relevant for such a modding project?
Pierre: I would like to say that I have the team more beside me than behind me. I'm not the one who dictates everything, we do it very democratically. As far as the division of tasks is concerned, as I've mentioned many times before, there are people who do 3D modeling. There are people who do 2D, which means they design textures. Then there are – now relatively new to us – people who also do programming or scripting, which is not usually needed as a graphic modification. That has come about over time. And then there are a few more specific roles. One role, for example, is that of the "Spacerer" – that's a bit of a spacey term. The Spacer is the world editor of Gothic. If you were to work on a greenfield site and you said "I'm going to create my Gothic mod from scratch", then it would make sense to first create the world... Okay, first you should think about a story! But then you would model this world and then you would load this three-dimensional level of the world into the world editor. And there you can place all the trees, items and waypoints. Somebody has to take care of that as well. And then we have someone with a little bit more special role with us, that's Gnox, who takes care of the atmosphere. He always has an eye on making sure that what we do and the liberties we take don't deviate too far from the original. [Christian laughs]
Felix: Now you said that you now have a few programmers who also work with scripts, and also mentioned yourself that this is rather unusual for a graphics mod. What exactly do you need them for?
Pierre: So the programmers, that's actually me. [Laughter] That's also historically grown. I was actually the one who did 90% of the textures at first. Then later BlackBat came in and took over completely. I now take care of administration and communication with the outside world, but also technical aspects. And of course there is the server – or servers – that I have to take care of. We have a bug tracker that I look after. Where bugs are collected that we find in our project. And we have a website, which has to be programmed. Yeah, of course a real programmers wouldn't call that "programming." [Laughter] We have the installer, but that really needs to be programmed. I took care of that. Simply because I also have a technical background, I mainly take care of these technical aspects – where programming is also relevant. Earlier in the conversation, we had already mentioned Ninja, which you can use to make small patches. For example, I'm currently working on a patch that adds new NPCs to expand the game a bit. But I think in the end it will probably be an easter egg.
Felix: That means this new patch will be part of your mod and not released independently?
Pierre: Right, but just rather... I think it will be an easter egg in the end. We had thought about something a long time ago, but then we couldn't implement it. But now with Ninja it will be possible.
Felix: In general – now that you've already mentioned it – are there items or tasks that seemed impossible to you, where you then said "This just doesn't work, even though we've set out to do it" or "Maybe the whole project could fail here if we don't get it right"?
Pierre: Yes, there was actually a big, a really very big problem and it was like this: So a three-dimensional mesh consists of many points in space, which are then connected to triangles and if you then arrange the triangles nicely, you can form geometric figures from them. Because we're reworking the mesh, we're adding more and more points, more and more triangles, and there's actually a limit in Gothic that we've run up against. That is, our mesh became too complex for the engine to handle. And that's why it looked for a long time as if we would have to release our mod for Gothic 2, which would not be one hundred percent perfectly legal and also technically a few things would have to be done differently. Then we would have released a reworked Gothic 1 as a total conversion mod for Gothic 2! [Felix and Christian laugh] Which is unbelievable, you shouldn't do that, but we would have been technically forced. Or we would have had to say "No, we're not doing a reworked mesh, we're will throw all of that in the bin". That was a really bad phase, which then of course also pulled on the motivation. But then we were very lucky that some time later... I don't even know how it was. I think I approached Degenerated – the author of the DirectX 11 renderer for Gothic – because I thought "Come on, he knows a lot about graphics and can surely help you!" and then he sat down, looked at the problem and actually did some hacking around, wrote a plug-in that manipulated Gothic's engine to read our more complex mesh. That made it possible for us to release our mod for Gothic 1 after all. Of course I'm still very grateful to him and I gave him a present at the next modders meeting where we met! [Felix and Christian laugh]
Felix: Now apart from the fact that there are difficult tasks that always affect individual parts of the project, I think it's a difficult task in itself to keep a team together over such a long time and to keep finding motivation to continue. How do you do that, that you hold out so long, still work in this mod and still have the goal in mind?
Pierre: Yeah, I don't really have a good and concise answer to that. I just have to say, there is a handful of people that came together and shared this passion for this game. We've also evolved over that time. For example, when I started, I was still a pupil and I was home every afternoon at kind of 1 to 2 PM and then I could get into it – my small world was all great. And then you go through life like that and do an apprenticeship or – many of us, I think almost all of us have – studied, two of us are now working on their doctoral thesis. They are simply very committed and persistent characters, that's what keeps us together, so to speak. But you also shouldn't make the mistake of assuming that everyone is always working on something. I mean, for example, yesterday I got up, yesterday on Saturday morning, and first looked "Which three albums do I put in the gallery next?". Then I did some subtitles and then I had breakfast – but that's not every Saturday. There are also ten other Saturdays or so before that where I don't do anything on the mod. And so the individual members are sometimes more active and sometimes less active. Sometimes you also have a phase in which one gives such an initial spark and then it fits with all and then we really bring something forward again. And then it can also be that the mod lies around for 3 or 4 months and only one of us does something on the side. So we could, I think, keep the motivation.
Christian: If I understood you correctly, then this project comes slowly, very slowly, towards the end and publications and you have now already mentioned your homepage – or the project homepage. It's quite new, it looks very fancy and on this homepage you can inform yourself about the status of the project and a little bit about what's happening in the work – because you are quite transparent, especially for such a hobby modding project. Do you want to say a few words about your homepage and what one can find there?
Pierre: I think we relaunched the homepage in December of last year, and that mainly has to do with me, because I'm responsible for public relations and I had a bad conscience, because for years there was too little communication and from my personal point of view we were not transparent. People have been waiting for our mod, so to speak, and then of course got frustrated because they think "Is it still being worked on?". And that's why we then – I, greatly supported by our member AmProsius – launched this new website, where you can now find everything important. We have a blog, where I also actively write articles and Gnox has already written a guest article. We have a gallery, where we now also have some fodder up our sleeve, where every two weeks there's always a new album coming in. There's a nice overview page where you can see what we've released in the past and of course there are also links to other projects from the Gothic cosmos that we think are particularly good and that we would like to point out to others.
Christian: If other people now listen to our podcast and become aware of it or have somehow come across your homepage and say "Wow, that's actually really good and I'm looking forward to it, I'd like to have that too and I'd like to make my contribution so that this project is actually completed and the mod becomes playable"... You've already said that you are still open to accepting new team members, as long as they already have certain skills. What other possibilities are there to support the project?
Pierre: Actually not so many, it's a participatory project and the best support is to participate. But of course we have some costs. These are mainly costs for hosting the web server, so that the website is accessible and then it's that we also get image material from publicly available libraries and that also costs money [in some circumstances]. That was actually not a big problem for us in the past, but especially in terms of the design of the NPCs [we have a need for that]. Therefore, you can donate something to us via PayPal but at the moment – as of today – this donation button is not on our website. I wasn't quite sure yet if I should really put it on the new website. Sure we have costs, but they're... you don't get poor from them. We all go to work and have money. It's not the situation now like it was when we were pupils or students. That's no longer such a problem today.
Felix: How is the community around your project in general? Are there still many people active who always ask what's new or maybe even make suggestions?
Pierre: Yes, I have to say that we have some very loyal fans who also regularly visit us in the forum and ask questions or also say something about every little shred that we publish. I think – as the past has shown – that we actually have some silent readers who are just waiting for our mod to finally be finished so they can play Gothic again the way they remember it from their childhood.
Christian: Is there a definite release date, is there any date that you can look forward to? So that you say "At the latest then I can finally play this game again in beautiful"?
Pierre: Such commitments are difficult, of course, and they are easier when you have professional project and budget planning. The current status is as follows: The only level part that is still missing is the Sleeper Temple. It's unbelievably big, so I can... it's unbelievably big, you wouldn't think that when you play Gothic. The first half is done and of course we need a little bit more time for the second half. And then we have to decide as a team, what else do we want to do before we actually release the mod? Where are we willing to cut back and say "Nah, come on we're not going to rework that."? That's still up in the air, we still have to find a consensus on that. I'm guessing we'll make it before, or maybe even better at, the 25th anniversary – of Gothic, not our mod. [All laugh]
Felix: Are there any things where you would put special emphasis on, where you say "This definitely needs to be reworked before release"?
Pierre: Yes. I would like us to rework all the items and objects. Of course, that's a lot of work, but it's something that would motivate me personally to do textures again and to get out of the technical-administrative stuff a bit. We have already covered stuff through our collaborations, but not everything is... covered yet.
Christian: Wouldn't it be the perfect ending to this story that you, as the one who started with the textures – and then the project got bigger and bigger, then at some point you moved away from the textures – for the finishing touches, the keystone of this building, then you went back into texturing? Oh, that would be such a wonderful end.
Pierre: Yes, that would be nice, but I'm not on the same level as BlackBat, who does our textures now, I have to say.
Felix: How is that with the current state? If I'm standing in front of a newly-textured wall or a house or some item that still has the old, non-revised texture, is it very noticeable? Does it stand out?
Pierre: I think so. There are a few things that don't stand out very much and that's the faces, for example. They're relatively well done and they're only shown on a small area. But especially the items themselves are often relatively clunky and especially when you have a mix between reworked and non-reworked items, then you see the contrast a lot.
Christian: When the mod is finished, where will fans be able to get it? Is there somehow a central point of contact for it?
Pierre: There is of course once our website www.gothic-reloaded-mod.org and also www.worldofgothic.de, where certainly a corresponding news will be published then and our mod will be available in the download area. There is, by the way, completely independent of our mod, a mod manager from Bonne6, which is called "Spine". You can install it and then you can install any mods from a catalog. You get a selection, you can search in it and click "Install". And bang, you have the mod installed. You don't have to surf around on any websites anymore. Of course, this is also a hot tip.
Christian: We will definitely put the link to the website and thus to the project in our episode description, so that you can have a look there. Pierre just said it, he regularly puts galleries online, which – if we saw it correctly – are in a random order. Right? That is, they are not chronologically ordered and represent the development of the project from top to bottom or the other way around, but are simply randomly selected collection of images and project modules?
Pierre: Yes and no. [Laughter] It is, as I said, our new website. But we also had a website before, which also had a gallery and everything that was in there, was published instant on the new website as well. But because we – and I have to blame myself and I'll turn the other cheek if someone scolds me – have communicated little for years, a lot of content has accumulated. I sorted it all, put it into albums and so on. There's something coming now bit by bit. As I said, every other weekend, every other Saturday, I put something on the website. Now, it would be wrong to say that this is somehow random. It's non-chronological but in terms of content, for example, it fits with the blog article that then appears shortly before or after. I've found that some content that we still have in stock... You need some context to be able to understand that as an outside viewer and I always have to create the context. Either in the form of image captions or in the form of a blog article and so unfortunately we can't put it all on there at once. I don't think it would be as exciting if it was strictly chronological either, so we have more variety in it now.
Christian: It's definitely very exciting to be able to browse through your work and look at the whole thing. And in this respect I would also like to encourage all listeners to take a look at this website. Then I would say let's do something for the rounding off, which I found more interesting at first sight than it turned out to be after my research – the Gothic 1 remake. My first thought was "Oh, now they're actually releasing a remake of the first part, doesn't that make all your work obsolete?" and then I took a closer look at the remake. Now before you make your statement, I'll say a few words about it. The whole thing has been made available in December 2019 as a playable teaser of this very Gothic 1 remake. You also have to say that I was a little bit hyped when I saw it. But that's not so much because it was necessarily the Gothic 1 remake, but rather because of the circumstances that existed at the time. Because in October 2019, Disco Elysium came out, so I've been squinting at it all along, looking forward to an awesome new old school RPG. In November Shenmue 3 came out, again an absolute classic of a decades old game series – after all Shenmue 2 came out the same year as Gothic 1 and that was fully hyped at the time. I had also mentioned that THQ Nordic had bought up Piranha Bytes in 2019 and then came, namely in December, a tweet from Piranha Bytes, in which it was announced that 2020 a new game will be announced, which should be worked on by now already at this time. However, as far as I know, that never happened. But a lot of people think it's going to be Elex 2, and then in the same month there's this playable teaser of the Gothic remake. And, you know, the old role-players were all like "Woah, we're going to get a lot of new content and new games and remakes of old games!" for these two or three months. That sounded pretty great at first. Then you wanted to play this playable teaser and you realized: You can't, unless you have any of the old Piranha Byte games already in your Steam library, then you can play this playable teaser. So that was more of a service for the loyal fans, I guess. How did you and how did you as a team react to this Gothic remake?
Pierre: I downloaded and installed it, of course. I have to say, I actually had to buy a part of the Gothic series on Steam first [Christian laughs], because of course I still have the original version on CD. I actually played it through to the end and was really not very enthusiastic, not very taken with it. Without wanting to go into it in depth now: The hero himself was just unbelievable, an unsympathetic chatterbox, so that was... It wasn't the hero, that was more like a Mud – whoever may still know him from the Old Camp. Someone you actually prefer to... never mind, let's not go there. And I also thought Diego was incredibly badly shot. He's actually a serious and sly character and that was just... I don't know, maybe a young Ezio Auditore.
Christian: Oh yes, that's a good description, that sums it up very well.
Pierre: And you had the feeling that those who developed this playable teaser didn't understand anything about the "Gothic essence". But there was actually an interview with Reinhard Pollice, who is responsible for the development of the remake at THQ, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the first part, and he said that they have taken this feedback very much to heart and that it will be a game for Gothic fans, in which they will also do without some mainstream features in order to deliver a more adequate product than this playbale teaser. In this respect, I'm very curious to see what will actually come out of it. But we in the team have no worries at all about that. Because regardless of how good or how bad this remake will be, it will bring more attention to the whole topic of Gothic.
Christian: Yes, for sure. Depending on how you work, your mod might even come out after the remake and there might be some people who say "Oh, that was nice and it looked nice but it's just not the same feeling as Gothic 1" and maybe it makes them long for the real Gothic 1, a proper remake rather than a complete redesign. Who knows, maybe that will help you in the end?
Pierre: Yes, that could be. I have a bit of a hunch that our release dates won't be that far apart. It will be interesting to see how much competition there will be for the players' favor afterwards, in terms of the official remake and the, let's say, "unofficial remake". I'm curious.
Felix: Thanks first of all for all these insights into your project in particular and also the history of Gothic modding in general. As I had hoped at the beginning, it was very interesting for me and it was nice to dive into this world again, where I haven't been for a while. For all the people who have now become aware of it: The links to your project and also the forum and everything else will – if Christian remembers – all be in the episode description. [Christian laughs] But not only you, we also have a homepage, startthegamealready.de. There you can find all our old episodes and also when there are new ones, they will appear and be listed there. You can find there something about our ongoing series. Age of Empires we used to do, we have finished that for now, with tips and hints about the game. From time to time there will be news again. At the moment we're doing something on Dark Souls 2, where we're playing through the game in parallel – Christian for the first time and me for the second time – and then talking about it in sections. Also on the homepage are of course the links to all our social media pages, Twitter and Instagram. There are also news there every now and then. And last but not least there is a link to our Discord server, where you can always discuss with us and talk about our latest episodes and general gaming topics. Until next time!
Pierre: Bye, thank you very much.