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Interview: CD Projekt on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, comparisons to Skyrim, always online DRM and more

A long, long time ago, the IVG community was given a chance to interview developer CD Projekt RED regarding their upcoming game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. After a significant delay from their part, and ours, Maciej Szcześnik, lead gameplay designer on the Wild Hunt gets back to us with the answers.

Can you tell us a bit about the nature of The Witcher 3’s open-world? Is it still hub-based with adjoining areas or is it completely open-world like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with dynamic side-quests?

Truth be told, it’s both. World exploration is tied to the storyline, which means that new ‘hubs’ will be unveiled as Geralt progresses through the story. I put ‘hubs’ in inverted commas there because using the word ‘hub’ usually indicates a somewhat utilitarian place where the hero buys and sells items, obtains quests, etc. In The Witcher 3, we tried to design places that are characters in their own right. Take Novigrad, for example. We’ve based it on medieval Amsterdam; what we’ve ended up with is a huge commercial centre, with all the intricacies, the mysteries lurking in alleys, the unique ambiance of an ancient city. But the term Novigrad also refers to all the areas around this city, so there’s even more to it than that – it’s a massive territory.

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A world 20% bigger than Skyrim’s seems really ambitious. How will you make such a large game world interesting to explore?

We’re following a new philosophy when it comes to designing exploration. In The Witcher 3, travelling has become an important gameplay element, instead of a boring necessity. We made sure that players will actually enjoy exploring the grand expanses of the world we’ve prepared – that’s why we’ve taken a totally borderless approach. You won’t come across any loading screens.

An important part of this freedom is also the method of travel. It’s up to the players where they want to go, but also how they want to do it. In addition to riding on horseback, Geralt will also be able to rig a boat and sail through the high seas.

Also, it’s not like we set a development goal of “let’s make the biggest game world”. Content was the driving force for us – we simply wanted the world to be teeming with life and it soon turned out that indeed, we’re gonna need a sizable area. What’s important here is the fact that we don’t just include vast expanses to ride horseback through, just for the sake of it – you’ll find plenty of points of interest along the way, wherever you are. The Witcher 3 storyline works a bit differently than in other RPGs – the “main plot” is wherever Geralt ends up at. He carries the story. Even the smaller side-quests will have some sort of a connection with the central plot.

Another factor that adds flavor to exploration is a huge diversification of environments. You start in No Man’s Land, a ruined, war-swept area, filled with despair. Then you move to Novigrad, the humongous city, crowded with all sorts of people, from those good-willing and helpful, down to the ever-plotting lowlifes. Finally, you reach Skellige, a forlorn land of the hardened, Viking-like folk.

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How will in-game actions affect the story? Could you give us an example?

Geralt’s choices will impact the surrounding world and players will be able to observe the consequences of their decisions. They will be able to go back to previously visited areas and see for themselves how and to what extent their actions have influenced the NPCs who live there as well as the places themselves.

Depending on players’ decisions, entire towns might be saved or razed to the ground. Plus, Geralt’s choices can lead to three different, fully playable epilogues. That’s all we can say for now, though – the time for concrete examples will come later.

Geralt has never been made to look like a typical ‘good guy’ or ‘bad guy’, and this allowed the game to have a morally grey tone. Will that continue in The Witcher 3?

Of course! Geralt bears the weight of experience on his shoulders and in The Witcher 3, it shows more than ever. The White Wolf has reached a point in his life where he longs for freedom and independence. He’s done meddling with royal politics and now he just wants to go back to his past life, that of a witcher. Once again he’ll be a monster slayer for hire, he’ll have the opportunity to travel; he’ll be his own master.

It’s been our core principle, right from the start, to give players options when it comes to decision-making. The trick is to make these decisions actually ‘mean’’ something, have a concrete impact and, ideally, make the players pause for a bit and contemplate what they’re about to do.

These sorts of tough decisions, combined with Geralt’s past and complicated motives, are what put the player in morally grey territory and we’ve worked to expand on this concept even more in The Witcher 3.

Will Geralt get a chance to fight on the frontlines? Will there be RTS elements to the battles?

I would have to get into story details to give a full answer to that question. However, keep in mind that the North has been ravaged by war and new conflicts menace the realm. No one can be sure of what the next day will bring, there’s tension, there’s despair. Who knows what Geralt will come across during his adventures?

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The PC version of The Witcher 2 is still a very demanding game in terms of hardware. What kind of system requirements will be required to play The Witcher 3, especially considering it’s a new engine?

There’s still some time left before the release and we keep on optimising the game, so even if I gave you any details, they could become obsolete in a couple of months. Keep in mind, that The Witcher’s 3 release date is set for 2014 and with the current rate of development of new hardware, we really don’t know where we’ll end up on this.

How has it gone so far developing for the PS4? How come the first two games weren’t released for the PS3? Any plans to do so in the future?

We wondered about this for a long time, but in the end we realized that we’d need to dedicate a whole team to adapt the game to the Playstation 3. And we were really, really eager to start working on The Witcher 3. It’s hard to describe, but as soon as we heard the uproar of positive commentary that came after the release of The Witcher 2, we just wanted to jump right back in and tell the last part of the story.

This is the first time you’ve created a game simultaneously for both PC and consoles. Will the console versions have any impact on how the PC version is designed, especially in terms of interface and controls? Is the PC still the lead platform?

The Witcher 3 will be a hardcore RPG, both in terms of the nonlinearity and multiple storylines, as well as in terms of the difficulty itself. And since hardcore RPGs have always been associated with the PC, we won’t forget about our roots in that platform. That’s also the machine that our core development takes place on. Developing for different platforms is a bit easier in the context of next-generation technology, since the architecture of the new consoles is actually pretty similar to that of PCs. On the other hand, there’s a lot of details that go into adapting The Witcher 3 for consoles, like transitioning from a keyboard+mouse controller combo onto a gamepad.

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Will The Witcher 3 feature exclusive content on any platform?

We don’t want to favour players of one platform over the others, that’s why we want to release equal content on each machine. We feel that adding exclusive content is, in a way, a form of discrimination.

What are some of the games or other entertainment mediums that you have gained inspiration from? What games do you play at work when you want to chill out during development sessions?

We play all kind of games for research. RPGs, obviously, but we also gain inspiration from FPS, fighting and adventure games, and even the FIFA series. Each and every one of us is a hardcore gamer, playing both at work and in our free time to relax. For instance, we used to organize in-company Battlefield and Call of Duty matches. Sometimes we also play tabletop games. It’s more of a social experience and you can totally forget about your PC or console for a while. We also watch a lot of films and TV series – from time to time our company rents a cinema for us and we catch up on new titles.

In the past, you’ve held a strong anti-DRM stance. Do you plan to include any form of DRM in The Witcher 3? What is your take on the recent trend of moving towards always-online DRM?

We plan on continuing our anti-DRM policy in The Witcher 3. We try to adhere to a philosophy of making players’ lives as easy as possible and in our view DRM systems go against that current, as they can punish people who don’t want to pirate the game. Our fans have always come first, that’s why we release all the free updates, that’s why we recently released REDKit. Piracy has been a huge problem for the industry for years, but we doubt whether DRM is the right tool to tackle it. We figure it’s unavoidable and someone, somewhere will eventually crack all the protection mechanisms.

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Is there a possibility you guys might create another game set in The Witcher universe? Are you open to expanding the universe into other genres?

The Witcher 3 will be the end of Geralt’s saga. We’ve spent so much time in this universe – it’s our 10th year. We feel that we’ve achieved our goals in terms of crowning Geralt’s story with an epic, fulfilling chapter – a perfect, satisfying epilogue for the veterans of this series, as well as a ripe, engrossing, stand-alone adventure for the new players. Recently, though, we released REDKit, which hands power over to the fans. It will be their turn to delve into the universe and create new stories. The closed beta has already borne its first fruit, the mod ‘Lykaon’, which already offers around five hours of gameplay, with the author still hard at work on more. Now we’re in the open beta phase, although the word ‘beta’ might be a tad misleading, as it’s a fully functional tool, already able to produce adventures on par with those from The Witcher 2.

You’re also developing Cyberpunk 2077 at the same time. Has this caused a strain on your development resources or are you expanding the size of your team?

Cyberpunk 2077 is a vast project. After all, it’s the first non-Witcher game we’ve ever worked on! The scope of the game is also humongous, that’s why we decided that we can’t have any compromises. We’ve expanded our team and now we have two separate groups working on The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077. This was absolutely necessary if we wanted to produce two superb games.

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How tough has it been to stay independent considering mounting development costs and growing expectations from fans?

You said it right there in your question – it’s the fans. We have a wonderful, loyal fanbase fuelling us every day. Our forums are full of praise as well as feedback, and both are key to our success.
They help us make sure that we’re going in the right direction, that we’re making games they want to play. They’ve never demanded something totally off the wall or out of the question. They understand that we want to make really good RPGs, that we want to imbue these games with expansive storylines and mature themes, and they back us up on that.

As for staying independent – it’s simply embedded within our DNA. We need to deliver what we want and how we want, so  we don’t allow anyone to limit our creativity. Independence is absolutely detrimental to us, because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to produce the quality RPGs we’d like.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt releases sometime in 2014 for the Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

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