Unbended Interview – The New RPG from the Former Ascaron Devs

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In case you guys missed our original report, some devs who were previously at the now shuttered German development studio Ascaron, famous for the Sacred series, are working on a new game.

We had a chance to sit down with the head of the new project, Franz Stradal, and fire some really hard boiled questions at him regarding his past with Ascaron, and his bold new game, Unbended.

Niche Gamer: First of all, thanks for letting me ask you these questions, I’m a huge fan of the original Sacred and really all European CRPGs. Which brings me to something I’d like to ask you now that I have your attention:

To me (and other fans of European games), there seems to be a huge difference between “Western” and “European” RPGs, even if they are often lumped into the same category by gaming journalists. Do you see this as well?  

Franz Stradal: Before I’m going to answer your questions, please allow me an announcement: We decided to change the name of our project! The game is now called ‘Unbended’ (see www.unbended.de). We opted for this change, because we want to detach our ideas and visions from the burdens of the past and develop our game less constrained and without preconceived paradigms. In addition, we think that this name matches the theme of the game pretty well. But more on that later…

I think your observations about the differences between US and EU games are quite right. Cultural differences, as small and subtle as they may be, will always surface somehow. And since games (especially RPGs) are just a very elaborated form of storytelling, you will find a lot of those little cultural differences if you’re just looking close enough.  

NG: The rough flaws that make the game more challenging, the often dark, gloomy worlds, the brutality and honesty of their stories. I could never lump Arx Fatalis, Divinity, Gothic or Sacred in with standard Western RPGs. As a European (German) developer, do you see this on your side? What are your thoughts?

FS: The stories in EU games (and German games in particular) seem to enjoy exploring the darker areas of the human mind. We like to play with emotions beyond the surface of the superhero character, basically taking a look behind the “helm of eternal uberness”, right into the mind of its bearer.

Fear, self-doubt, despair, hatred, but also love, mercy, ethics, forgiveness and scruples… those are all pretty strong elements in the development of a human being. Many mainstream RPGs are just telling the story of the good guy, who is punishing the bad guy. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that, we all know it from the Star Wars movies and the Superman comics! It’s good fun and everything.

But every once in a while, especially when playing a character in a RPG, you might ask yourself what kind of person you’re playing. How does he think? How does he feel? Does he face any conflicts? In my opinion, that’s the deciding difference between a RPG that’s purely based on stats and skills and a RPG in the true meaning of the word.  

NG: Sacred was a really unique game at the time, since it combined the mammoth size of an open world RPG (and the freedom of it as well) with the approachable/addictive combat of an ARPG like Diablo. What drove you and the other folks at Ascaron to make such a game? Did you think it would succeed the way it did?

FS: In retrospect, it turned out that that team that created Sacred 1 and Sacred 2 was some sort of “one of a million”. It is very rarely that so many different people are forming a team that’s so balanced and full of positive energy.

Chaotic creativity against analytical thinking, boldness of the rookies against coolness of seasoned developers, everything in this team seemed to be in equilibrium. Get a load of this: we even had artists and programmers talking to each other! Mindboggling, isn’t it? It was an invaluable experience to part of this team.

And now, almost eight years after Ascaron’s end, we’re still in contact with each other, having a party once a year and spamming each other’s email and facebook accounts with mindless blather. I guess that’s the reason for our success.

It was 100% a team effort and everything about that team was perfect. During the development of Sacred 1, we thought that we are about to create something pretty big. However, we had no clue *how* big it would be.  

NG: It was mentioned on the Unbended website that there were some objections to the way Sacred 2 was handled.

Were there disagreements with the publisher where their own vision differed from what you guys wanted? It sounds like what happened with Jowood and Gothic 3.

FS: During the final phase of the development of Sacred 2, we had to fight a number of demons, most of them within ourselves. But the past is the past. Let’s look forward instead.  

NG: I’ve heard on forums a lot of people say that you guys should take the game to kickstarter, but if I remember correctly, Kickstarter doesn’t yet allow European developers use the service…is that correct? Have you explored any other avenue to raise funds for Unbended’s development?

FS: You’re right; kickstarter is not an option for German developer teams. However, fans can support us directly via fund raiser on our website.

All financial support goes 100% into the project! As soon as the preproduction is done, we will take a look and find alternative ways to raise funds for the full development.

Later this year we will try to go on international crowd funding platforms as well; but we need a legal person and company in the states first.  

NG: As a Sacred fan, I was really turned off by last year’s Sacred Citadel. The trailer claiming it was “Bitchin” and the console-esque gameplay made the game look shallow. Did you see or even play the game? What are your thoughts about it?

FS: I’ve seen a trailer and some game play movies. What can I say: it’s not my kind of game, but I guess there is a market for the game, otherwise they wouldn’t have released it.  

NG: Deep Silver announced Sacred 3 not too long ago, what did the old Ascaron team think about it?

FS: The response, as far as I noticed, was mixed. Some people didn’t like the style or the look or the features. Other people thought it was quite ok. I’ll refrain from judging or rating the work of other people. Sacred is no longer our child.

We wish them good luck with their decisions and prefer to focus on ‘Unbended’ instead. That said, we are in no competition with Sacred 3 whatsoever! We’re working on our vision and our game, trying to create something fresh, new and .. well.. ‘Unbended’.  

NG: It’s still early, but are there any key features in ‘Unbended’ that you’re really excited about? Anything fans of the original will be shocked by?

FS: The first thing to mention here is our goal to create new, interesting classes to play. We’re trying to avoid the usual archetypes tank/caster/rogue and develop something new instead.

No worries though, there will be no shortage of magical swords and fireballs in the game. But be prepared to face some unusual and cool choices in the character menu. We just introduced the “Gambler” as the first class und ‘Unbended’.

A character between rogue and caster, always living on the edge, never avoiding risks, fearing no odds. His cards and dagger tricks drift seamless from normal into magic. The second thing that springs to mind is the open world of ‘Unbended’. Many Fantasy settings are using the game world as some sort of stage, where the story happens to happen. ‘Unbended’ is a different story!

Here, the world is changing, slowly bursting into pieces, caused by the “Drift”. The outer realms of the world have become a bizarre cluster of fragments, loosely connected to each other via flying ships or huge bridges. Visiting your grandma has never been more challenging!

Speaking for myself here at NG, I’m excited to hear more about Unbended in the coming months! Be sure to keep an eye on their website for all future info.

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Carl is both a JRPG fan and a CRPG'er who especially loves European PC games. Even with more than three decades of gaming under his belt, he feels the best of the hobby is yet to come.

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