FiringSquad: Can you tell us a little bit about the setting? This is a rich and deep fantasy world stemming from a series of novels that seem to have been translated into every language but English. What makes it so special and why choose it for a game?
CDProjekt: It is quite difficult to describe the uniqueness of the world in just few words. It is the world that won the hearts of millions of readers in Poland, Czech Republic, Russia, Germany and Spain. Sapkowski revives and refreshes the genre by smartly interweaving the classic approach (non-human races, magic and imaginary worlds) with modern social issues (racism, totalitarian systems, environmental issues, terrorism and world’s degradation). The very exceptionality of the world stems from its credibility – by discarding the canonical light vs. darkness divisions, the author creates vivid and lively pictures of characters full of human emotions, passions, fears and inner anxieties. There is no good and evil, no action in this world goes without a certain degree of ambiguity. The differences between humans and monsters obliterate. Into such world Sapkowski puts one of most distinctive and unique characters in fantasy literature – a mutated monster slayer trying to make his way in life, staying true to his beliefs and trying to remain neutral to the omnipresent clash of powers.
The choice of such world seems absolutely natural. We’ve always wanted to create an RPG game for mature players. It would be unachievable with fairy-tale high fantasy world full of pathos. The world of Sapkowski, on the other hand, fits our goals perfectly. Violence, eroticism, wealth and poverty, corruption and intrigues all these mix to create lush and rich surroundings that mesmerize and absorb.
FiringSquad: What kind of modifications have you made to the BioWare Aurora engine that powered NWN? Why choose mesh terrain rather than tiles?
CDProjekt: If you don’t mind, I’d like to quote an excerpt of out F.A.Q:
We have introduced various changes into the Aurora engine to adapt the game to the most modern standards in graphics and gameplay. The first and most important of all was rewriting the engine so that it would utilize the latest version of DirectX. This process allowed us to implement the latest vertex and pixel shaders. As a result, we are now able to give each and every element of the game a unique appearance. Magical swords glow subtly in the dark, as do the eyes of some creatures. The enhanced engine also allows us to deliver the Witcher’s world and surroundings at a much higher level of detail. Thanks to the shaders we managed to implement numerous full-screen effects – e.g. the Witcher’s night vision.
The next thing we added was some new engine functionality allowing us to increase the realism of the environment, like reflections on the floors at King Foltest’s palace, realistic environment reflections, lapping water, whose transparency level depends on the angle it is seen at, as well as a delicate volumetric fog hovering over the swamps.
It is crucial not to forget the 24-hour cycle system with the sun moving across the sky, shadows changing their intensity and positions… and a subtle glow of reds and purples enveloping the world at dusk. Also, the weather changes in various ways; it is not difficult to get caught in the middle of a torrential downpour (with the raindrops splitting realistically on the ground!) or even a lightning storm (mind you, we’ve even managed to implement the lightning-thunder time delay!). Though previously available, the character’s dynamic shadows have been heavily modified. Appropriate hardware will allow the player to see softer shadows, without typically sharp and “shattered edges.”
Another modification introduced into Aurora is a realistic physics engine. Any pushed object will roll across the ground; any killed enemies will fall in a very realistic manner. Some of the Witcher’s hits will even chop the enemies’ heads off, and the heads too have all the physics implemented.
The gameplay has been entirely modified as well. We’ve given up the turn-based system and implemented frantic and spectacular real-time fights enhanced with a range of graphical effects, like blood splattering on various surfaces (walls, floors), and ‘coup de grace’ bullet time effects. Another set of changes involves the increase in the number of animations – the opponents will now dodge, fake hits and attack in a variety of ways. Next to the additional character animations we decided to add non-interactive cut-scenes to help us tell the story – a system of pre-directed movies and dialogues with an emphasis on unique and personalized character mimics/expressions. Add to that professionally dubbed actors and you’ll have a fully-fledged, living world to hop into.
Last but not least, the sound in the game has been radically enhanced. All the fight sequences have been enriched by numerous, outstanding EAX sound effects.