ELEX Making-of [Deutsch/Englisch]
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ELEX Making-of [Deutsch/Englisch]

September 5, 2019


The concept of “ELEX” We’ve often thought
about the setting, which we call the “science
fantasy universe”. We’d been thinking about doing something different
for about nine years. We really like contrasts,
which you can see from our games. We also love the Middle Ages, which is also obvious. But something was
still missing somehow. Building nothing but barrels, chairs
and Mediaeval stuff all the time can get a little tedious. We have lots of experts here who
wanted to create hard surfaces too. The idea was to just put everything that
was cool together just for a change. Then we added the post-apocalypse
and science-fiction elements. The working title was “Evolution”
back then, simply to demonstrate the different settings
you can use: from the Middle Ages to the
post-apocalypse and sci-fi, so basically a summary
of the total evolution a human can experience
in this fictional universe. First of all, the basic framework
which game you want to create. We’re Piranha Bytes,
and people expect a particular type of game from us,
which is an open-world RPG, very free, a very hard world, with lots of characters
you can talk to and who give you missions. That you can do everything in the world that there are no hubs where
all you can do is talk, or hubs where you can just fight,
but it’s all contained in one section. Then you take all this stuff you’ve been thinking about –
the setting, which monsters could appear, and what type
of characters we could include. Then we just put it together
and then try to work it all out. Then we assemble
a world map, and include the various factions
that we always have, and which players can
also join, which is so typical in
“Piranha Bytes” games, and who live in a place which is the
perfect environment for them and the right location which is
civilised, like a city, for example. You then put them
in a particular order and then try to represent them
in an open-world principle. This is very difficult of course, because missions
can also be played in reverse. This means that if you want to
kill a monster for a character, you may have encountered
and killed this monster already. So you have to structure the
the dialog accordingly. We have designed lots of different
and very complex missions. The environment must then be
adapted and built accordingly, and then you gradually
piece the world together. All you have initially
is an empty world, which means at best you have
the rough topology: The location of the city,
the hill on which it stands, which valley you can enter,
where the game starts. This is really important,
because the start of the game is the first 2-3 hours of gameplay. This period determines the success
or failure of the fun factor or the “mojo” as we
like to call it. This must happen fairly early
so you can create your models. They don’t have armour
or faces yet. Sometimes they’re just men
who are the classic types from our previous games.
They all look the same and even the women
tend to look like the men. You need a very good imagination
to envisage the final look. Of course we can’t implement
everything to 100%. If I had an infinite budget, I could say:
this has to be like this, etc. We have to see what idea
lies behind the concept, what is the essential essence,
and how can we crystallise this for each
individual area. This is different in the level area
to the game design area and different again in the story area. And when you’ve found this spark
I try to help it from my gameplay technical
area of expertise. We now have science fiction
weapons, we have melee weapons. A laser cannon is basically
more powerful than a sword, but how can I ensure that a
sword is still a valid option, and so on.
So you try to pack this essence, this big mix of fantasy
and science fiction, into the game mechanics,
and to support the concepts behind it, namely that
we provide everything. First, you think,
what am I actually doing, what should it be like. You
can’t just simply start. For example, you begin by
placing a little house somewhere. You have to know what it’s about;
what am I actually doing. That is what has changed
for us, the fact that we have a big world,
unlike previously. Recently with Risen 3
we had small islands. And because you have this map
you start thinking… how do I divide it up,
what do I put where? The story provides the guidelines,
what should go where, but the actual execution,
how I create my small cities, that’s our responsibility. In this project, we started
building a new animation skeleton. In other words, first we need
some sort of character. We then build it anatomically
correctly, as far as possible. The skeleton is also built,
which we test in the empty world. What’s great and really fun is,
for example, all the dynamic elements. The joints are new to this project,
for example. They move dynamically, which means they’re
not initally animated in a fixed way, but move dynamically with the player’s movements in the game, or
dynamically with the other characters. You can get a much better
flow of movement. It doesn’t look as stiff as before, it
looks like its “functioning in the world”. It’s a really cool thing
that’s new in ELEX. Quests and missions Yes, when is a quest or
a mission a good mission. It must be good if I’ve had fun
making it. And that I as a player know,
why I’m actually doing it. I mean, the intention behind it,
why you do something, the reason for killing this monster must serve an emotional or
at least useful purpose for me. It basically means you have
to whack this creature to obtain the cool item
it has in its bag. To eliminate it to
help the people it was threatening
so you make the people happy. So I think it’s great to
have the Beserkers, for example. So you say, OK, they want
to defend their world-heart, and that’s why this
monster is in the way. I help them, and can therefore
forge an emotional bond with them. Or I know this creature
is magically charged, and if I want to be a mage, I know
I’ll find lots of mana around it, and so on. When I approach the brute,
it threatens me and squashes me flat. You can complete a typical
“Piranha Bytes” quest in various ways. You can find the monster
before you are assigned the task to kill it. You can use specific things,
e.g. ranged combat, melee combat or whatever
you do best. As a player, you have several ways of
completing this mission. Either you have someone
who can help you, or you have a Q party member with you,
so one of your companions will help, or can persuade people
to join in the attack it if it’s a big monster. Or, or, or…
We try to incorporate at least one trick
into each mission. So, there’s a ruse,
a thing that makes the game easier at that point
if you know what it is. Otherwise you have to try
to hit it 30 or 40 times and then avoid being hit yourself
in the worst case, but that’s the simplest way of completing
this quest or a mission. So I generally get
a list right at the outset that indicates the points where
cutscenes have to be included, which characters should be involved,
maybe what the location should look like. And I then start thinking
what is actually happening in the scene. So when you have the task of creating
a love scene between two people, the question is, does this
maybe require a sex scene or
is it just a kiss… maybe it’s more romantic,
or maybe just dialog. Then I wonder:
where could I set it? Then I ask the level department
what they have in mind. Is there a beautiful romantic
location in the player’s camp, which I could already reserve for
myself, and where I can play out my cutscene later. I then discuss it with the
story department, with Björn, and whether it also corresponds
to his concepts, and then I think: OK, what do I need?
I need animations for the scene. What animations do I need,
how long are these animations. Maybe I need
specific items for the scene. Maybe I need a glass
of a particular size, which will also be used
later in the cutscene. Often you initially use the characters from
the previous game, which makes it easier
to visualise the scene. But for the locations, you
often have nothing to go on, just a box or something like that.
Then you have to talk to the level design about it. Hey, could you create
my location a little earlier so it’s easier for me to
set the action? But during this initial phase I’m not
working so much in the editor, anyway, but mostly outside it. I
put my characters in my 3D program, to have a look and see
what they look like. And I also draw it externally. And that’s a massive
warehouse at our place which is equipped with
100 infrared cameras. And you can put several people
in there wearing special suits. The suits are fitted
with infrared reflectors. And a lot of these reflectors
are placed at each joint and when the characters move
the cameras record it and then transfer the data digitally,
which we can also see live. Generally, I direct
the recordings. I brief the actors on what I
want beforehand, and how much time we have to do it.
That’s really important for us because we only have a certain
number of seconds for the animations. So, for example, you have
10 seconds for something, they try it and say,
“oh, we needed 15 seconds”. So what we do then is
make it slightly longer and try to make the time up elsewhere,
or we try to do it faster. The stuntmen we’ve always used
are really experienced artists, and they often help us out. In Risen 3 for example, I needed
a fight scene to last 15 seconds, and then at the end I
wanted a pirouette. He then choreographed it
for me. Of course I have an idea in
mind of what I would like. But they have so much experience,
that they do something, that looks beautiful and I get my pirouette. From the idea to the game I believe our quests come alive
because you have a lot of freedom. As a player, you can just go there and consider
if you like the guy or not. Do I give him a beating,
do I rob him. How do I talk to him?
How will I resolve this? It’s the freedom of gameplay
and our familiar dialog. You need this robust
and pithy dialog: “What do you want from me? Shut up,
piss off!”, etc. I think you need to
have a real gut instict. You have to be aware
of what we’ve done before, as a writer. If I haven’t worked on
Gothic I or Gothic II, I must still know certain things. I have to try to recreate
some of this flair and feeling. I think we did this
really successfully. I think we have made our quests
fairly easy to follow and complete. We try to integrate our NPCs into
the world in a believable way. This means we think carefully about
the character’s “standing” in the world. What makes the character,
and why are they there? Why are Tthey not a lifeless husk?
How important are they in the community? Or why are they unimportant
in the community? A picture of the character then
starts to emerge from all these questions and all these factors, that
may then entail certain problems. The better I know a character,
the more I can get out of them… for example, with regard to the
quest, how they talk, or whether their quest is just to annoy you. You can write a more multi-faceted
character the more you know about them. We’ve tried to bear this in
mind for all the Guilds, and we make sure these
are also rich and varied. We have an internal Wiki, that initially
consists of just a white sheet of paper. Amadeus and I often sit here together,
we’re responsible for the side-quests, and have this ominous
sheet of white paper, on which you initally write
a great big question mark. You then get the information about
the elements that are already fixed. What does the world look like,
where are they within that world? You gradually develop
their character traits. For example: why is this character actually
needed here at this moment. Then you develop them further, and
when you have these basic traits, the character almost takes
on a life of their own. You know if they’re anxious or if they
enjoy high status in the community. If they are frightened
farmers in the field, they are unlikely to give
you a quest called “kill the king”, unless
they are extremely ambitious. Issuing a quest based on
this information is then easy. First, this time we’ve decided to
incorporate fewer things into the game, which sidetrack from the game.
This includes minigames, so, whereas before we had
lots of mingames in the pirate setting, like knife-throwing for example,
in ELEX, we’ve tried to include only minigames that are
integrated into the game world. We’re retained the classic
“Pick locks” for example. We’ve added hacking. All in all, the whole game
hasn’t been a great effort, as we’ve dispensed with
lots of other gimmicks. What’s still really good is when
surprise elements enter the game. The sunglasses were never planned. It was more a stroke
of luck that there was someone with glasses in
the designed concept. But it was clear to me that
it would cost more if we produced the glasses.
It’s not worth it. And suddenly the glasses were there. And when the sunglasses were
in the game for the first time, everyone who saw it
said “Woah, that’s cool.” At the end it even became
a gameplay feature, that you highlight items with
specific sunglasses, etc. None of that was planned,
but it just turned out that way. We made lists, not
just in the forums, but particularly in the forums, because
we had very close contact with people, but also via other channels,
and face-to-face to get feedback, what is
particularly important to people, what was expressed by
lots of different people, to then consider these things. Ultimately it’s always great
when we have a show like Gamescom, because you
meet people there who you wouldn’t otherwise get to
know, and that’s great fun. With ELEX we’ve tried to
work very transparently. We had a demo in
various different phases. If something hadn’t worked,
if people really didn’t see it or didn’t understand it,
we improved that aspect. It’s always really helpful when
you receive direct feedback, to see what really works with
gamers and what doesn’t. It’s worth showing people when
you’re trying out things and for them to be there to
look over your shoulder. We ourselves can be a little
blind; we know the game so well, and we can’t see what it’s like for
someone else who doesn’t know it. Then things get interesting. You can never tell what will happen
at a convention or trade fair. You meet so many people,
and get so much feedback. It’s really valuable,
particularly nowadays where you have to show an
extract of your game so soon. We had a demo very early on, because you can learn so much
about what people do or don’t like. You’re there with them and
you can already watch them play,
you can stand behind them and ask them questions,
it’s so valuable. It’s cool to meet the community,
because the basic mood on the Internet often isn’t representative.
There are complaints, fair enough, but lots of praise too, but
what do they really think? If you can then talk
to people in person who like your
games or not, you can ask them why they
find our games really stupid. And you can fathom this much
better in a one-to-one conversation and the people can give
the relevant feedback. You can just understand much
better what gamers want to see, how they want to play our games,
it’s incredibly helpful. I just get a great thrill,
when I stand on stage and can tell people what our
team has been working on. Of course, this doesn’t work
without the personal contact. You can learn so much from
the look on their faces, not only when you’re on stage,
but also when you’re talking to people. When you play a game and like it,
you have incredible energy, and you can also say to the
developer: “why have you done this or not done that” or “it’s so
cool that you’ve done that”. To receive praise and
criticism is so important, if you want to keep
working on your game, and you want to keep
improving your skills. All this work can only
be carried out by us in the story and design department,
as we’re the only ones who know the game inside out. The programmers see their
graphic features, the level guys see their level elements, and the
creature guys see their creatures or animations. As we assemble
the whole game, we see it all. We’re the only ones who can
comment on every aspect. I think it took less
than six months, and then I went to my first show. We make the entire engine ourselves,
except for a few modules we bought. This of course includes all
the graphics programming, which means the opportunities
that we give to the artist, so they can use their
creativity to the full. This goes from the material
system through the render pipeline, to the overall lighting and
snow and rain rendering, depth of field, ultimately
everything relating to what it takes to put the
picture on the screen. Sure, the setting also influences the
framework for the programming, but since we’re operating
in a similar genre and had also gained some previous
experience with weapons in the Risen series, basically
not much has changed. But you do of course always have
to adapt this aspect to the game. You always have to adapt
the skills and crafting. There’s also of course the graphics
that are determined by the setting, and which change accordingly. In the past, for example,
we didn’t place great emphasis on metallic surfaces, because they feature very little in a
classic fantasy scenario, as everything is made of wood and stone. But metal is a fairly important material
in a science-fiction environment and has to be more prominent. Soundtrack There is a vision of the game: ELEX, the game, and its world are
marked by contradictions, contrasts and especially opposites. This means we have a
science-fantasy universe in a post-apocalyptic world and
this influences the music. The typical classical music
belongs more to the fantasy stuff as in “Lord of the Rings”,
and Gothic, etc. If you enter the futuristic or
post-apocalyptic world, everything has to be very
melancholic and heavy. With the futuristic feel, the music is
very electro-oriented, which means we have to really feel and
hear all these opposites, throughout the entire game. The music must fit based on
which regions you visit. The choice of instruments
depends on where you are. Violins and strings will be suitable
everywhere, for example. Staccato fits everywhere,
but you can hear the classic synthesiser in the modern regions, but
not in the forest with sword and shield. The soundtrack is basically a
compilation of all the pieces of music that you can hear
in the game. There are various tracks
in the game that are played depending
on the situation. There’s also the ambient
music, which means you arrive in a particular region,
Edan, for example, where there are many ruins, or
where the Berserker can enter a city, or where you go into a dungeon. Each region has its
own type of music, its own sounds in the music
that create the atmosphere. If the player stays in a
dungeon, for example, the music doesn’t
simply stop, but keeps playing
in a loop. As soon as a monster or
an enemy arrives, the combat music is played to suit the situation,
so the quieter explorer music turns into fighting music.
And if I go there at night, some instruments are missing, so
the exploring is more discreet, less banging and crashing. These pieces are less
part of a soundtrack, where a track starts and ends. It’s different in sections where
you have dialogue, if a character explains his
intentions, or the mood becomes more emotional, then the tracks
have a beginning and an end. I’ve added seven hours of
music into the game. That’s a lot,
but it’s necessary. Voice recordings This is tricky, because our
actors aren’t used to not having an image of the
character in front of them. In normal films or AAA dubbing,
it works like this: here’s the character; they
look like this and behave like this. Make something out of it,
create a voice for them. This happens differently with us,
because the character doesn’t exist yet. I have an image in my head: this
smith is a fat, gruff guy, and has a deep voice, so
that’s how I describe him. That’s what he’s like, so give me
your best, deep, gruff smith voice. And when I say “I like it”,
then we record it. And then the character is tweaked
afterwards to fit as closely with this voice as possible. The studio sends us a cast list
of around 40 voice actors and we get voice samples
from these 40 actors. We listen to them
and then compile a list: These characters all need
a gruff, voice. These characters all need a
fearful, squeaky voice. We then assign the voices.
And if we note at the end: Oh, we still need
two more gruff voices because we don’t have enough
variety, or something, then we say to the recording studio:
Hey, if you have more voice actors that can sound like that,
then give us five more. Then we assign the voices and
gradually work on them, so we can find the right
voices for all the characters. So then the roles are cast.
Then we enter the recording studio and the voice actors join us.
We spent 10 weeks in the recording studio. The voice actors came in
every day and were recorded. It was a lot of work, but
we had so much fun. My favourite Easter egg was also
created at a convention, and that was with our
good friends, the RocketBeans. We were talking,
fooling around… And then the Micha Bros.!,
who are known and loved for their legendary
“Gothic II” let’s play, said:
We are now the voice dubbing actors.
So we’ll do it. We responded right away:
Yeah sure, let’s do it. So what started as a joke
turned into something great. You think, OK,
I can really do this, what should stop me? You just have
to be relaxed in this industry. But then I sat down
and just worked it out. Then the guys came here, and
I got a lot of help from everywhere. And then we just
went ahead and did it. You’ll find out exactly
what that is, in the game but I think it’s become a
really funny number, that came from a crazy moment. I love stuff like this,
I simply have to do it. The main difference I found
between working on a film project or working for TV and
dubbing and sound mixing is the actual scale of the project.
When you get an open-world game you’ve got hundreds of hours
worth of recordings to get done. Just because the size of the
game requires that amount of interplaying dialogue.
So whereas a short film is one and a half hours, Elex comes
to a total of 100 hours of gameplay. So that all needs
to be filled with dialogue. So it’s a very different animal
to get your head wrapped around. Generally, it’s a lot of reading.
We go through the scripts trying to get a detailed
understanding of the characters. So when we begin the actual recording
process, we can give our actors a detailed back story, an idea
of the world they are living in. So they fully understand all the
different nuances of the character, to base their best
performance on that. That’s how it goes, and with
lots of whisky, obviously. In this game the characters
are really greatly appreciated. Especially, when comparing the two, we have
the differences between Nasty and Caja. The main player has an option to
have a relationship with either of them, and they are polar opposites. It’s lovely to see the interplay
between characters and how the player reacts to these two personalities
bouncing off each other. Also, in addition to that: Wardek,
because it was drawing on some nice ideas about paternal feelings and love,
but still from an objective stance, so really repressed, really restrained,
and just seeing that glimmer just coming through was a really fine
line for the actors to perform. But I think we managed to just
tread the right path between an emotional and
unemotional character. ELEX, in a sentence We have these standard phrases: ELEX: post-apocalyptic science-
fantasty, open-world RPG. That’s how I would describe it
in a word, if I had to. But for me, it’s more than that.
For me the essence of ELEX is: freedom. The freedom in the RPG that
I can do what I want. That’s what I wanted
to convey in the side-quests
I wrote. The fact you can follow different paths
was the most important thing for me. In my side-quests I have tried
to ensure that’s always possible. A RPG, that immerses
you as a player and enables you to implement your vision
of a type of player. That was just one sentence, but it
doesn’t express everything I want to say. So: ELEX is everything.
Period! For me ELEX is the game
of freedoms and contrasts. A “Piranha Bytes” game
through and through. We’ve only made fantasy
games up to now, but we’ve added science-fiction,
but from the moment you start the game
and get stuck in, you get the feeling that
somehow you’ve come home. Laser cannons or not…
I’m home. I think that’s cool, and
it makes me feel a little proud that we’ve managed to create
that kind of feeling, a mood that is also independent of
the setting, as you can see. So that’s our game, and it’s
Piranha Bytes through and through.

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  1. 4:40 Hätte nicht gedacht in einem Making Of Blender zu sehen. Das erfreut mich sehr als Blenderartist.. ^^

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