Interview with Jochen Hamma

Author: Gaspy
Topic: Introducing Spellbound as the developer of Gothic 4
Released: 15.9.2007

1. Hi Jochen. Could you please introduce yourself? What exactly is your job at Spellbound?
My name is Jochen Hamma, I'm the Producer of Gothic 4 - Genesis at Spellbound. My career in the games industry started 18 years ago, after 5 years in the car manufacturer supplier's industry. Since 1989 I'm mostly working on RPG-Games (approximately 10-15 of them). I started in Quality Assurance, moving over to storyboarding, design, some programming and finally project management and producing. Today my biggest personal interests are Game and Interface Design - within projects, mostly I'm hired to oversee production and project management. My personal entry to the RPG and Fantasy genre were Pen & Paper Games (started to play in 1984) and Tolkien's Fantasy Novels.
2. Tell me something about the beginnings of Spellbound and your past projects...
Spellbound was established in 1994 by Armin Gessert - a few months later, Jean-Marc Haessig joined the company. Both are still here and serve as CEO and Creative Director of Spellbound. In 1995 the company has started to cooperate with another developer (attic Entertainment Software GmbH) - working on an RPG game called Realms of Arkania - Shadows over Riva. At that time, I had been producer of the title at attic and that's how Armin and I met the first time. After Shadows over Riva, Spellbound has been involved in the creation of around 20 titles in a variety of different genres (RPG, Action, Strategy, Tactics, and Simulation). The most well known probably are Airline Tycoon, Robin Hood and their old western games like the Desperados series or it's most recent project Helldorado.
3. I would like to say congratulations to you as a new Gothic developer! What do you think, why did JoWooD decide exactly for you?
JoWooD were looking for a team from continental Europe, preferably Germany. I think they were as well looking for a team with both RPG experience and proven expertise on platforms other than PC. In my opinion, these issues combined with an experienced, internationally stuffed development team, helped to close the deal for both parties. To really get the decisive factors, you would have to ask JoWooD.
4. Have you played the original Gothic trilogy? Which part is you favorite and where you can find the biggest inspiration for G4...
For sure, I did enjoy the Gothic series a lot. I have played all three of them - and many of my team mates have as well. The music and aesthetics of G3 are clearly the best in the series so far - from the story and dialogue side, I'd personally prefer G2 as a reference. As for the fight system and for the interface - the three games had different advantages / disadvantages. In a nutshell: we aim for changes within the fight system and some changes in the interface area. As for the visuals, acoustics and story elements, the prequels can be considered very good blueprints - but need to be improved as we want to be competitive at the point of release and I think the market is to change a lot in the next years.
5. Don't you feel unpleasantly, working on the title which not initially yours? What experiences in RPG sphere do you actually have?
We are happy to working based on the most successful German RPG universe arising from digital media. If you work based on a universe established by another team - you have to be aware of the effort, love and dedication given to create this universe. The Gothic Universe will be treated with a lot of respect by Spellbound. We plan to take all actions possible to keeping the story, the setting and all the other aspects of Gothic 4 consistent with the universe as much as possible.

As for RPG-Experience: People from the team at Spellbound or me have been involved in the creation of many RPGs (around 15 as far as I know). You may have heard of the Realms of Arkania series - myself being involved. It sold several million units and was able to collect a variety of awards. So if you look both at the numbers of games we were involved in as well as into critical acclaims collected - the team does bring some credit to the table.
6. It is a few weeks after the announcement about the G4 : Genesis. Have you thought about the scenario yet? Do you want to continue in the story and the old traditions (use the idea of Unknown lands) or do you prepare a complete new story line?
We are creating the story line at the moment but we want to stay very close to the story of the Gothic games so far. As for the geographical setting, our design is ready. We aim to addressing the main requests of the community - asking for dungeons, a bigger city while maintaining the typical Gothic style of big landscape areas.
7. What can you say me about the audio-visual part of the game? What engine do you plan to use?
We have not yet made any announcements. We will however not write our own engine technology - and rather use proven middleware technology (Unreal, Gamebryo, Trinigy). I'm sure our final decision will be announced in the next months to come.
8. What is for you more important: huge free world and next gen graphic or good story and atmosphere? Where do you see the weak points of Gothic which do you want to improve?
To us, gameplay is the most important thing. As both story and atmosphere support the mid and long term motivation of the player they are incredibly important to the success of the Gothic series. However in my opinion - without the very cool look and the benchmarks set by the music scores in Gothic - the overall success would not have been possible.

In regard of the weak points - probably every player has his very own opinion. Personally I'd agree with both the press and the community statements. Gothic 3 mainly suffered from technical problems. These need to be addressed and some changes will be made in regard of the fight system and of the interface.
9. Are you in contact with Piranha Bytes team? Are they willing to cooperate with you and to give you some advices?
Yes - of course we are. On a developer level - we have some good personal contact with some of their lead people for years. Given this level of good personal contact you may safely assume we are talking to each other.
10. The Gothic series is well known for its great orchestral music too. Do you have an own Kai Rosenkranz? (PBs composer) :-)
Kai Rosenkranz is unique - he is a great composer. Kai has carefully developed the Gothic music style over the first three games. It will be a tough task for us to find a musician with similar skills. Whatever composer we elect - he will have to make sure to follow the original music style and carefully develop it further. Let me give you more details here as soon as the composer and style decisions are taken and the first results of such decisions are available.
11. In action RPGs are very important the combat system. What improvements do you prepare for us? Will be possible to control the game like in G1, just by means of keyboard?
The fight system will be the area which is to see the biggest changes compared to G3. I can only comment on the controls of the fight system - once it's fully implemented. In general - as we want to keep far distance weapons - some pointing device may be necessary. That's why at the moment, I'm not sure if the interface on PC can be keyboard only.
12. My favourite character is a mage. What can you say me about the magic?
As you know, the magic systems have changed from Gothic I to Gothic II to Gothic III. The setting of Gothic 4 - Genesis allows to introduce some new elements of magic while keeping the most interesting parts of the old system at the same time.
13. Can you disclose some new game features yet?
I mentioned already a larger city and a new fight system. As for the heroes' capabilities, you can expect some new spells and changes to the skill system.
14. Will we enjoy our old heroes Xardas, Gorn or Milten in G4?
You will be able to interact with many of the NPCs well known from the prequels.
15. On our fan-site there was a voting "What is missing in G3", and the most voted things were: diving under the water, climbing on the rocks, separating on the chapters and joining only with 1 gild (like in g1,2). And "under-watering" locations (old Xardas tower in G1)is missing too) Do you finally prepare all these great stuff in G4?
We can not guarantee to see all of your suggestions happening in Gothic 4 - Genesis. But what I can tell you: Our design document has a special section - dedicated to the community suggestions.
16. And what about the riding animals?
As you can see from other Spellbound games - we do have games with Riding features already. Technically all problems are solved. From a Gameplay point of view - it's mainly a question of map and fight design. A game properly designed for a riding hero must be much bigger than a game designed for a walking/running one. Furthermore if you want to provide a good combat system for both riding/flying and non riding/flying combat - you have to schedule many months of development for this feature. We have not yet decided what to do here.
17. Is there a chance that the game will be released in 2008? Did you arrange with Jowood about the cost estimate?
We can't say anything about that yet.
18. When are you going to show us some video materials from the game? Did you actually start with the development?
The first game assets are under development, but I don't think any ingame content will be shown in the next weeks to come. We have started to develop Gothic 4 Genesis in August 2007.
Be the way when do you plan to turn on the G4 official website?
Again - JoWooD is the party to address this question. But I may be able to giving an answer here in the near future. We plan to reserve much more time from our development team for forum communication starting from October 07.
19. Are you working at the patches and mod-kit or do you concentrate just on G4?
We aim to release a patch at some point in the future, if all the technical problems can be solved. We may need some hints from Piranha Bytes to make it happen fast. Furthermore, the Community has started to work on a variety of bug fixes and problems and we hope to join our forces with their power to getting a good result as soon as possible.
20. What do you think about the new Piranha Bytes new "RPB" project? What are you expecting from that?
Piranha Bytes is a highly skilled, motivated and experienced team. They have created an incredibly successful RPG series - increasing the fan base from release to release. As an RPG fan I'm really looking forward to their next title a lot. I think they are capable again to create a game surpassing the standards of their already very good first three games.
21. Are you going to publish collector's edition with all bonuses?
All the manufacturing decisions are made on the JoWooD's side. I'm sure JoWooD will be announcing details significantly prior to the release of the game.
22. What could you tell me about the game localization?
Any of Spellbounds games published in close cooperation with international publishers in the last couple of years has been mastered and released in several languages at the same time. We do have the tools and workflows established to allow for 5-10 language releases simultaneously. The final release date will be set by JoWooD and it's publishing partners.
23. Do you plan to invest more time for bug-killing and beta testing? Spellbound is a small studio. Are you able to do a high-class game in this quantity? Does your studio have a potential to create maybe a next best rpg of the year? :-)
In fact, Spellbound currently only has 25 team members internally. However, we typically add another 20-50 freelance developers on top of that during the production period. During the creation of the big titles in the past, we had up to 50 or 60 developers working on one title simultaneously - that's going to happen for Gothic 4 - Genesis again. Our model is very similar to the Hollywood studio model. If a Hollywood studio creates a new film, they start with a small amount of employees and add many freelancers to that team to create a film in 3-24 months - however long it takes.

As for bug fixing, the last major games released by Spellbound came without any patches or with just one patch. I hope our expertise developed in these areas will work for Gothic 4 Genesis as well.

Next best RPG of the year: I was lucky enough to being involved in the creation of one "Best RPG of the Year"-title already (Realms of Arkania - Star Trail)– acclaimed by both a variety of US and European magazines. It's a great experience and everybody who had it once probably aims for a second time...
24. As you can see, the fans have very huge demands for Gothic. Can you still sleep well?
Me, yes I can. I hope the other team members do as well. The Spellbound people have a high level of talent and motivation. If everything goes well then combining such talent should result in a very good game.
25. Do you have any interesting information for your fans yet?
Yes for sure. I went through the design document a couple of minutes ago and ... if I remember correctly - some of the issues addressed on your website and mentioned within question 15 seem to be mentioned there...

So even if we do not disclose too much detail in the next weeks to come - please go ahead posting suggestions. Even later in the project we reserve some time for changes based on community suggestions. The team is really looking forward to making some of them come true.
Thank you for you answers and precious time. Stay with the community and Good luck!
Thanks for the good luck - that's always a nice partner to have. As for the support - even if we will not be able to implement every single suggestion - it's our utter credo to build Gothic 4 to the liking of the community!

Jochen Hamma, Executive Producer
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