September 14, 2011
Here at TGB one of the most exciting things we get to do is talk to the people who actually make the games we know and love. Recently we got the amazing oppurtunity to sit down with Bernd Lehahn the director of Egosoft, developer of the X series. During our interview with Mr. Lehahn we were able to get some insights into why they make their games the way they do and we also got some exciting new details about their upcoming release X: Rebirth.
TGB: First I want to say thank you for taking the time to talk with us at TGB. We are very thankful for the time you are spending with us today.
TGB: The X series seems to be your primary title as a company. What has inspired you to continue development of the x universe instead of expanding into other areas?
Bernd Lehahn: This was really an easy decision. We all love space games. Yes it is true, that only few developers have the luxury of concentrating on one series, but I am sure this is not because they wouldn’t like to. It is relatively rare today that a developer keeps full control of his own IP and directly makes money with every sold copy of a game. Once you are in this position however, it is great to work with a community of fans and build something larger. This is also the reason why we were able to support our games much longer than a normal game developer can afford. So it is all closely connected with keeping control and building a larger IP. Hmm… I hope I can answer some of these questions with a simple: Yes or No 😉
TGB: The X universe has been quite successful for Egosoft. Why has Egosoft chosen not to expand onto other platforms such as the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3? Are their hardware limitations? Control Problems?
Bernd Lehahn: Well it’s certainly not a trivial task to bring such a complex and hardware hungry franchise to a console. Our games have stood and will stand in the future, for total freedom inside a very large universe. I don’t think it’s impossible to bring this to a console, but it’s a big task. So as a small developer we have to concentrate on one platform at a time.
TGB: Many previous PC exclusive developers have complained that piracy is a big problem for them and have moved away from the PC platform as a whole in some cases. Do you, as a developer, feel piracy is a huge problem for you?
Bernd Lehahn: Piracy sure harms us, but I think we found a good compromise in how we protected our last two games (and in how we removed that protection afterwards). It is always impossible to judge how much more we could sell, but I do not believe any developer moves to another platform just because of this. Consoles are a big market and developers would be stupid not to develop games for this market.
TGB: The X series, while it has some story elements is primarily an open sandbox. Has Egosoft ever considered doing a more focused cinematic campaign to drive the story behind the X universe?
Bernd Lehahn: Yes, in fact with every game we have tried to improve on the storytelling and experimented with ways how to combine the open sandbox with a plot. X2 had some cutscene driven plot elements, X3:Reunion had plot minigames etc. But this was all not perfect because we had to stick with a lot of the existing designs. That’s another reason why X Rebirth had to be redesigned from scratch and is not just X4.
TGB : Speaking of X Rebirth are there any exciting new features that you can tell us about?
Bernd Lehahn: Many… I am writing a series of postings for our own forums for the next few days in which I describe in depth a lot of the new game design and cool features.One very cool new feature is drones for example. The player will have only ONE ship to fly himself. But this one ship is super cool. You can move around inside, transport and talk to NPCs aboard etc. But you also can still own and control drones and capital ships. Drones can even be controlled in first person, so in reality you still have lots of ships to steer from cockpit view. The only difference is that this is done using a virtual reality system (goggles come down from top of your cockpit and the co-pilot takes over flying the main ship) and you won’t die if these drones get destroyed. This system gives us a lot more freedom in designing new and very diverse experiences.
TGB : Are you going to be adding some FPS style gameplay to the X universe? Planetary Interaction perhaps?
Bernd Lehahn: No. Not that we didn’t think of it. Marrying an X game with something like Mass Effect sure brings some nice ideas, but again: We are a small developer and have to do one step at a time. You WILL however be able to step out of your ship and stand on platforms. Talking to NPCs is a big and important way of controlling the game and a step to making things easier (less complicated menus and simpler conversations).
TGB: Will X Rebirth utilize some of the newer graphics technologies such as DX11? Does DX11 present development challenges for developers?
Bernd Lehahn: That’s not decided yet. X Rebirth will run on DX9 API as long as all the features that we need from the API are possible with it. That does not mean we may not at some point also support DX11, but for now we do not see a need. Our engine is quite different from all the big established names, because it is designed specifically for a space game. We would love to use an engine like Unreal or the CryEngine, but unfortunately we had to develop it all ourselves, because this was the only way to have cutting edge space graphics.
TGB: So X Rebirth features an entirely new graphics engine?
Bernd Lehahn: An entirely new everything engine :)The graphics engine was actually replaced between X2:The Threat and the X3 games, but the X Rebirth engine is a much bigger step, because it also means a whole new tech platform to support multithreading for AI, physics and other tasks.
TGB: The X titles have traditionally been very friendly and open to the modding community. Your in game script generator is a prime example of this. During the last 10 years the number of developers who support the modding community have been greatly reduced. The recent announcement that Diablo III would not feature any modding support at all had the modding community in an uproar. Why has Egosoft chosen to be so closely tied to the Modding community? Why do you think so many developers are not releasing Mod support with their new releases?
Bernd Lehahn: I can’t speak for others, but for us it’s an easy choice: Supporting modders helps adding to our games and bringing more cool content to our fans. With X Rebirth it is a bit harder than in the past because the whole tech platform has changed at once, so people can’t work with it before the game comes out. But we aim to release tools and documentation as soon as possible after the release of the game. TGB: last question 😀
Bernd Lehahn: phew…
TGB: Has the idea of adding multi-player ever been considered for the X Universe?
Bernd Lehahn: Yes and the other half of the answer is again the same as twice above mentioned: We are a small team and have to focus, but …. yes 🙂
TGB: That is all the questions that we have for you. I want to say thank you again for taking the time to talk to us about your company and your games.
X: Rebirth Trailer