AmA with Nicolas Lietzau (one of enderals project leads)

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There is a AmA (Ask me Anything) on reddit right now. Feel free to ask whatever you always wanted to know about Enderal. The AmA is still ongoing. I will provide an overview over most of Nicolas answers in this thread. If you havn't finished the game, beware of some mayor spoilers!


Hello everyone,

Since someone requested an AmA with me a couple of weeks (or months?) ago and I couldn't do it back then, here I am now. I've never done this before nor am I sure if you guys are interested, but I guess it can't hurt. :)

To give you an idea who I am: I was one of the two project leads on Enderal and have been with the project from it's inception in 2011 until the release. Right now I'm traveling and writing a book, but I will hopefully be back in active development in November.

So, what were/are my responsibilities? I wrote pretty much all of the dialogue in the game, both in English and in German, some of the books, as well as most of the plot/story. I also organized and directed the German and the English localization, and I contributed some music (although, to be fair, the only song which I truly composed was The Song of Winter Sky. For the rest of the soundtrack, I provided melodies and worked very closely with our composer Marvin Kopp). Finally, I scripted/coded most of the quests, as well as big parts of the game-play and modeled most of the new vegetation (Trees, shrubs, plants, et cetera), and I also did some administrative things.

I'm currently still in Thailand, so I won't be able to do this AmA live, but I will check in here as often as I can. Finally, a personal note: I'm very glad Enderal is so well-received. It means a lot! :)

How did you guys keep up a coordinated project of Enderals scope for over 5 years? I assume you have day jobs and perhaps families also - was developing Enderal like an all consuming hobby for the last 5 years, or how did you manage to stay the course?
Good question. I guess mainly it was just tenacity that made us go through with it. Some members of the core team, such as myself, spent a lot of time on the project, sometimes as much as 40-60 hours a week. So yes, I suppose you could say it was a very time-consuming hobby. However, I studied while working on Enderal, so my schedule was a tad more relaxed than that of our older team members who had a day job (and a family).
What made you and the rest of the SureAI team decide to go such a drastically different direction with the game design than what Skyrim was (at least in my mind). By that I mean Skyrim was/is a very open game, you could do plenty of content in it without ever following the main storyline. So why go for a more story driven approach?
As you said, we wanted to make it a very different experience from the start. I suppose it boils down to personal preference - I, for my part, enjoyed Skyrim very much but all of my favorite games are far more story-driven (Pillars of Eternity, The Witcher 3, Spec Ops: The Line, Mass Effect), so I doubt I as a writer could have done Enderal any different. However, there are some quest-lines, for example the Golden Sickle, that allow for a lot more player freedom and non-linearity. It's just the main quest which is so linear, because our resources didn't allow for more. :)
Why did you originally decide to start creating massive complete conversions rather than adding to the original game like most modders? It's obviously a lot more work, and I would guess some people might not be willing to change their game installation to give something like this a try.
I wasn't with SureAI until 2011, when the development of Enderal started, so I cannot say what motivated Dennis and Johannes (who were the founding fathers) in the first place. Regarding Enderal, I guess it comes down to the fact that we wanted to create something different to Skyrim, and that is rather hard to achieve if you "just" add to the original.
What are the biggest flaws of enderal in your personal opinion?
If I had to pick two, I'd say the lack of guild-questlines and the incomplete features, such as the housing. There are also some things I personally would have done differently if I could do it all again: For example, I would have slightly rewritten the intro (not the dream and the ship sequence, but what happens afterwards) and to provide for more player freedom. For example, we would have had the player meet the Apothecarii and Jespar shortly after Riverville. However, all in all, I think I can speak for the entire team when I say that we are very proud how it all turned out given our limited resources and the obstacles we had to overcome during development (such as members jumping ship). :)

What was the process you guys went through in order to come up with Enderal's plot? Were there any crazy scrapped ideas from previous revisions of the story?
It's hard to pin down. Process-wise, we essentially created a rough draft of the story (mainly deciding on the core themes) and then I started writing. When I was done, I revised, then I revised again.Theme-wise, our initial draft and the concept of the High Ones took a lot of inspiration from the writing of C.G. Jung, though the actual execution was heavily influenced by either personal experiences or current-day themes.

Regarding the second question, yeah, a lot! Most of the crazy stuff made it in-game (dreams), but we had to cut some things out. The novice scene shortly before the finale was originally a lot more disturbing, but we had to tone it down because we didn't want the voice actresses (Who both did an awesome job) to think we're nuts and quit on us. :->
Did you get inspiration from Mass Effect 3? Some people see a lot of similarities between the two plots.
As for the Mass Effect similarities, no, not really. While I loved the Mass Effect franchise (Even the ending, don't hit me!), the third part came out when the fundamentals of our story had already been set for over half a year. Funnily enough, the first thing I said to Johannes after finishing Mass Effect 3 was that now everyone is going to tell us that we copied them. However, I never saw it as that much of a problem: I thought that it becomes very clear that the core themes of our game are VERY different from Mass Effect: Mass Effect is about survival and interracial conflicts, Enderal is about mankind's inner demons, the free will, and loss - at least that's how I see it. It's only similar on a superficial level, and then again, the fact that the world is threatened by an "evil" species and is trying to save itself by building a machine isn't something Mass Effect invented after all. ;-)
What about the Starlings? What happend to them?
The Starling's fate was something we wanted to save for an eventual guild quest-line, so I don't want to say too much about it yet.
In one of the final dreams, the father is abusing the mother and accusing her of infidelity. Is this a scene the character remembers from their childhood?
Regarding the dream scene, I personally wrote it as a somewhat distorted, but actual childhood memory.
Was there ever intended to be more elaboration on both the Aged Man (as well as his lover) and the Veiled Woman, or was that deliberately left ambiguous? The Aged Man was a pretty enigmatic character, but the Veiled Woman felt a bit like a plot device given human form?
As for the Aged Man, I think some people had some very, very good interpretations about what his role in the cycle is. The Veiled Woman isn't a plot device, but I can understand why people feel that way. We actually had a very specific explanation in mind when we wrote her. If we get to develop that DLC, a quest that sheds some light on her origin is on the top of the priority list. :)
Who is the veiled woman or what is her purpose at all?
As I said, if there is going to be an addon, we will definitely include a quest that sheds some light on her. I can totally understand why people are clueless about her. :)
A NICE CRISP PIECE OF MEAT. What did Daddy REALLY mean by this?
The meat is symbolism. :-)
Which of the endings do you like better and why? Who is your fav character and why do you like them? Romance Jespar or Calia?
Good question! I honestly don't know, I like both of the endings. In my first "real" playthrough I chose to flee, even though I thought it was selfish. I love all characters, but if I had to pick one, it would probably be Tealor. I know most people don't like him, but I really love his personal narrative and think a person like him would work just perfectly in real life politics. He's a person people tend to follow, especially if they are afraid (which many people are at the moment, at least in Europe). Also, I think that his voice actor, Andreas Wilde, did an absolutely amazing job. Fun fact: He did most of the script prima vista! As for romance, I romanced Jespar (and another character which is not yet released, but her romance is more of a side plot, not as extensive as Jespar and Calia), and in my second one Calia. :)
What made you decide to give the game only downer endings where you can't win? I love them both and think they fit the tone of the game, but was wondering if this was a choice you made for thematic reasons, or whether things got cut, etc?
As for the endings, I actually intended them to be two answers to a fundamental question that is woven into the entire story. No other endings were planned, even though it might be possible to add an alternative ending that still stays true to the story. No promises though. :)
Have you had any thoughts on the plot holes people have thought of? Like with Lishari and how you could have used the Word of The Dead to find her murderer? Did the team notice things like this and leave it alone or do we have it wrong?
Yeah, as stated earlier, we did originally plan on implementing a quest to follow up Lishari's murder. I didn't think of the Word of the Dead, to be honest, even though it's so obvious. If the DLC is going to happen, there will be a quest involving it to follow up her murder.
Would you consider making the end game playable? (beat the game and continue)
No, an open ending will hardly be do-able. It just wouldn't make any sense in regards to the story

Why is smithing so useless? Not only can you not upgrade magical items. But you can't upgrade most non-magical items either!
We mainly didn't have enough time to properly implement crafting - similar as I was the only one responsible for the quest scripting, Johannes Scheer (The second project lead) had to do all the game-play. We might buff crafting in later patches, but back then we simply lacked the time and the people, so we just "hacked" it in. :-/
Why did you give up on skill trainers like in Nehrim/Gothic? Was it the lack of time?
No, Johannes wanted to give the players the chance to carry the trainers along with them, so to speak. In a way, skillbooks are mobile trainers - we figured it would be frustrating to always have to go back to a city in order to increase your skills. :)
Future plans for Enderal/SureAI

What about future content for enderal? How likely is it you actually make a DLC?
There are plans for a DLC, yes, but it's not for certain yet.The Golden Sickle will definitely get released eventually, maybe on it's own or as part of a DLC. When the time comes, we will make an announcement.[...]
Will there be more games in the Nehrim/Enderal universe?
[...] As for more games in the universe, that's rather unlikely, particularly if it's a full-fledged game, as that would entail too many legal issues (Germany has some very strict laws on copyright). Right now our future is somewhat enigmatic, even for us.
What are the Future plans of SureAI? What will be your next game?
As I said in another comment, right now the future of our team is somewhat unclear. Developing Enderal has been an emotional rollercoaster, and we don't know where we will be at in life in a couple of years.
After already working nearly full time on a game for years, do you plan to get in the industry? Or even start working full time on games with SureAI? Especially when considering Indie usable Engines like Unity and Unreal.
Many of us are already working in the games industry. As for SureAI as an indie studio, we don't know yet, but at this point, it's rather unlikely. We fiddled around with UE and even created a prototype for a game that would have worked, but in the end we didn't find enough people who shared our work ethics. As for me personally, I'm not sure where I'm going to end up. I'll finish my first book this year and try to find a publisher, and if the DLC doesn't work out, I'll probably look for a job in the industry as well.
Translation/Voice Over

What happened to the version with german VA and english subs?
[...] Regarding your other questions, yes, we wanted to include such a version, but the problem was that sometimes the English dialogue differed a lot from the German one. To give you an example: In the English version, a character might say two lines of dialogue (255 words each), but in the German version he says three. In the English voice-bsa (archive), the third line is filled with a mute audio file and an empty subtitle. If you were to play with English subs and German voices, the character would speak until the third line, but the latter would have no subtitle, which would confuse many players. That, and the fact that the English localization in itself already posed many problems, made us decide to cut it. :(
You wrote pretty much all of the dialogue and some of the books in English as well? That's pretty extensive vocabulary for a non-native speaker.
The translation of the books wasn't done by me, even those I wrote myself in German, but yeah, I did the dialogue for the English version as well. I did live in an English speaking country for a while, though, and we had three very committed proofreaders. :)
Why did u go with such a heavy American based voice acting cast for the English version? Was it purely down to mostly having American voice actors apply?
Yup, pretty much. As much as we would have loved to have consistency, it was hard to find enough (talented) English voice actors, particularly given that we didn't know any people from the acting industry in English speaking countries.

The new Vegetation is great. Where did you get your inspiration for the flora?
Thank you! I spent a lot of time working on those trees and I'm glad you like it. As for inspiration, we mainly worked with online references or took walks through some German forests. The new, fantasy tree species (such as the Whispertrees in the Suncoast or the Kings Tree which can be seen in the dream home, at the roadside) were done by combining different elements of different tree species.
What was the biggest technical hurdle you and the team faced in creating the game?
As for technical challenges, the entire development was a struggle, really - especially towards the end, there were so many nasty bugs that took us days to track down (for example, one, where the game crashed at a certain time of day - it ended up being a script command called on a chest.) Also, creating the LOD was a nightmare - Kudos to our 3D artist Vilma and Johannes who never gave up.
do you have a favourite scene? If so, which and why?
Nice question! I have a couple of scenes I like, but if I had to settle on one, I think it would be the "bittersweet" ending in Silvergrove (the one with the horse), shortly followed by the second dream and the final dialogue with Tealor. Okay, that was three scenes. :)
When did you join SureAI? How did that came about? You did not work on Nehrim, did you?
I joined SureAI in fall 2011, when the development of Enderal started. How I got there was actually quite funny: I had just started studying game design in Munich and, one month earlier, had completed Nehrim, which I loved. When we presented our portfolios to our fellow students, one of them turned out to be Dennis, one of the founding fathers of SureAI, who had also played a pivotal role in the development of Nehrim. He asked me if I was interested to write for a cool project, and of course I did. :)
Did Bethesda give you any help with your project?
No direct help no, but I think that's due to their policy that they can't give direct help to modders in general - if they were to directly help us, they'd have to help everyone else, too. Sometimes we wished it would have been different, but we can understand their reasons.
How is bugfixing going right now (09/13/2016)?
Not Nicolas here, but I can comment on the bug squashing: A patch will come out soon (matter of days). The fixes aren't too many this time, but there are some important ones among them (yes, NQ15 should now be completable).

Generally speaking, it's going slow. Right now, nobody is full-timing on Enderal; the closest we have is Till Thrun with his relentless replying to bug reports on the forums and testing my fixes. I personally have about half a day per week for Enderal, and one single hard-to-locate bug can easily eat that all up. My job would be much easier if everyone would submit savegames (ideally one before and one after the bug appears), but apparently a lot of people don't even have before-the-bug saves to begin with, so I cannot usually test my fixes properly. But I believe dev activity is going to flare up in Winter again and maybe even stay up for a while (Nico will be back, my Spring teaching will be easier than my current teaching, and I haven't given up hope that new people will join).
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