Summary: Today we conclude our new interview with CDProjekt, developers of The Witcher, one of the better RPGs we saw this year at E3. We also have newer, fancier, snazzier screenshots for those looking just for eye candy.
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.
CDProjekt: When compared to the aforementioned, we’d much rather see our game in the line with productions of a great storyline like Baldur’s Gate (epically drawn plotline) or Planescape: Torment (extraordinary protagonist and his mystery). We ourselves would probable be the closest to calling The Witcher a ‘medieval’ version of Fallout, mainly due to two similarities – nonlinearity and mature world full of violence and eroticism. Additionally, unlike in the case of titles mentioned above, we have for our disposal a unique protagonist – strongly characterized by his literary background, story and interpersonal relations. This, we think, wins us a lot and works to the game’s advantage.
According to master Hitchcock’s maxim our game will begin with ‘an earthquake’ and then the tension will rise. We would not like to see the gamers bored with lengthy introductions, which by the way are the curse of most contemporary RPGs, that is why we’re putting the protagonist ‘in medias res’ – into the middle of the plot. Geralt wakes up with no recollection of the past, somewhere within the walls of an ancient witchers’ keep. Only to see it attacked by a bunch of mysterious thugs. After a few moments of astonishment, the witchers gain control over the situation and the slaughter of the bandits – completely unprepared to face so dangerous an enemy as the monster slayers - begins. It shortly turns out that the attack was not aimed at the witchers themselves. And though the monster slayers try to keep away from humans, their intrigues and conflicts, they are soon engaged in a military and political trickery. Geralt, however, has a freedom of choice, he can join either of the sides or remain neutral.
Additionally, the storyline revolves around the idea of getting to know one’s past and searching for one’s identity. The novels tell us of a deadly injury Geralt receives, while trying to protect non-humans from the massacre under the mob’s boots. Yet, no one knows exactly what happens after that. What’s more, the doubts awaken in the heart of the main character himself.
FiringSquad: You say that the player can kill almost any character in the game and can wait for some quests to basically time out as he chooses to do something else. Isn't this a nightmare for the designers, trying to think up everything a player might do? How much development time does compensating for the openness take up?
CDProjekt: We do realize that such an approach requires a lot of input and bay bring about certain problems. That is why we’d begun working on the script long before the production phase started, and we believe we managed to create a solid basis for an involving, non-linear storyline. The additional time we got was entirely devoted to polishing the plot and placing it in a very flexible world avoiding linearity. We have also created very meticulous and specific system of hints and gameplay mechanisms, allowing us to foresee the consequences of character’s reputation and flexibility of interpersonal relations. All these sum up into a consistent structure that responds in a foreseeable way to the player’s actions and matches itself so as to provide a number of alternative solutions to certain problems. It is of course worth mentioning that the players’ lack of sense and responsibility may cause the main character’s death.
In majority of the games such choices are restricted within the bounds of a good/evil axis, where eventually the ‘good’ is preferred. In The Witcher there is no ‘better’ solution – the consequence will be vital, consequence of the choices that become more and more dramatic and result in an arising difficulty of discarding the once-taken path. The very final, climactic outcome of the game will be a result of a number of choices made during the gameplay. It will be impossible to change one’s mind at the eleventh hour, as it took place in e.g. KOTOR.
CDProjekt: In the countries where the novels have been published the fans expectations are definitely high, though we hope the gamers will not be disappointed. Obviously, a computer game is a very different type of media, when compared to books, therefore, we were forced to introduce a number of changes and design elements that in books were only traced. Take for example the towns’ and castles’ architecture, meticulously conceived combat system, magic signs and the witcher potions. All the people engaged in development of our game are die-hard fans of Sapkowski’s works, thus we hope that even though the media changes, the character of our work will give justice to the novels’ quality and spirit.
Coming back to combat system – it’s surely been a great challenge for us not only to face the usual development problems concerning the system’s usefulness, playability and balance. We had to stay faithful to various abilities described in the books and expected by the fans, like: the hero’s superhuman agility, pirouettes, bolt rebounding, magic tricks and many abilities included in the novels. Additionally, we had to create a system of combat trainings and types, which are have not been depicted in the books. Naturally, each and every one of us has their own legitimate idea of the world. Yet, we hope our work will be appreciated and will not stir up any controversy among the fans.
FiringSquad: What kinds of games have influenced The Witcher's development? Is there any goal you're aspiring to that's close to what Fallout or a NWN module have done?
CDProjekt: The number of titles that hale had influence on our work is huge, for it consists of virtually all good games we have played since the 8-bit computers. Of course, the most important of them are the revolutionary RPGs like Fallout, whose mature atmosphere and freedom of choice we’re trying to implement into medieval surroundings. The Witcher will also include film-like, epic elements known from games like KOTOR and the RPG evergreen – Baldur’s Gate.
FiringSquad: Is there anything that you'd like to add about your game, perhaps something you feel people are overlooking when writing up their impressions from E3?
CDProjekt: The reception of The Witcher At E3 was exceptionally warm. What we welcomed with greatest joy, was the appreciation of our persistence and determination in making a good RPG game, slightly aside the genre mainstream. It might not be quite trendy to design single-player RPGs these days, still, we believe that thanks to our passion and increasing experience we’ll be able to create something that will easily win the gamers’ heart :) Hopefully enough of them to ensure us some future on the game development market ;)
FiringSquad: Thanks for your time, and good luck!
CDProjekt: Thank you very much for reading!
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