There's a lot of amazing games due for release during the next six months, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one that people are more excited about than The Witcher 3. Last month we had the chance to discuss some of the developments and design choices with The Witcher 3's Senior Art Producer Michal Krzeminski.
During our catch up with Michal we covered what has changed in the franchise since The Witcher 2, how the creative process behind The Witcher games work, and how it felt to be name-dropped by Barack Obama. So lets take a look at how our Witcher 3 CD Projekt Red interview went down.
Game Debate - Hi Michal, the excitement is building ever faster towards The Witcher 3's arrival next Feb, so its great to be able to ask a few questions our readers will want to hear about. First things first, this time the Witcher comes with a huge open world for players to lose themselves in. But traditionally The Witcher games have been narrative-driven. How are you balancing the freedom provided to players by the open world, while maintaining the deep, dynamic story paths you are well known for?
Michal Krzeminski, Senior Art Producer - Wild Hunt is all about the story and how it’s told within the open world. It’s not your typical open world game with a strong narrative running parallel to it and a dozen unrelated quests, it’s a riveting story told within a world with everything interconnected and adding to the general experience. The people that inhabit the places you’ll be able to visit are not oblivious of what’s going on - they’re part of everything, even if you don’t have to talk to them to progress the main story arc. Take Nilfgaard invading the Northern Kingdoms and the Wild Hunt looming on the horizon. Imagine you’re on a quest to find out more about a particular aspect of the Hunt. You might go along the main story arc, but you might do some side-quests that will give you more insight into the general situation. I think that by driving the players’ attention like that, we’ve managed to successfully marry the classical pull of a strong narrative with the freedom of an open world.
GD - The Witcher 3's open world setting remains on the unnamed continent taken from the Witcher novel author Andrzej Sapkowski's imaginings. How much communication does the team have with Andrzej Sapkowski these days? Has he given you creative free rein within The Witcher world, or are there strict boundaries you legally have to follow?
MK - Mr. Sapkowski created the world but we have full creative control over the game and how it plays. We really appreciate that we can build our own stuff within the world and fill in the blanks which he left in his novels.
GD - Ok, so it sounds like you guys at CDPR have considerable creative freedom over the Witcher Universe, that must make development much smoother than say, being tied to a tightly run franchise.
As gamers we have come to expect The Witcher series to be mature in its approach to delivering content, but what sets The Witcher 3 apart from other similar games and franchises?
MK - I think it’s the story and how it treats the gamer. We never tell you that the choices you make are good or bad, it’s always up to you to evaluate if the choice you’ve made suits your idea of how the game should progress. Sometimes, from an external perspective, every choice is bad because people die and bad stuff is about to happen. Sometimes saving someone might bite you in the ass later on in the game (despite your intentions being good), you never know. It’s like in real life, there’s always a lot of answers to a difficult question but rarely there’s one that’s perfect.
GD - Speaking of player choices, the outcome of the last game was heavily influenced by these. Does the Witcher 3 deliver content based on player decisions from the previous titles? How has the character of Geralt changed since the last game? Has he matured, or changed in any way?
MK - The Witcher 3 takes place roughly six months after the events of The Witcher 2, so Geralt has only had the chance to grow a beard. As for the choices from the previous games, yes, to a certain degree the game relies on them, but it’s nothing that should deter gamers new to the series. What’s important, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is written in such a way that it’s a natural continuation of events for fans of the series, but it’s also a standalone story for newcomers. We’ve made sure that everyone will get the most out of the game.
GD - So Geralt might not have physically changed much but, from what we have seen so far, some areas of gameplay have had a significant overhaul. In earlier interviews you have said that you’ve made some pretty huge changes to the combat system since The Witcher 2. What are the biggest changes we’ll notice when fighting?
MK - First of all, there’s no more QTEs [Quick Time Events] in the game, so players have total control over what’s going on at all times. Now each button press corresponds to a swing of the sword so players can create their own combos and fluidly chain them with other attacks like the new witcher Signs we also introduced. What’s more, there’s no more rolling around the enemy to avoid being hit - Geralt’s a master swordsman after all, so he’ll be able to dance around his enemies, dodge them and parry attacks (even to the point of deflecting projectiles with his sword). And talking about projectiles, since there are some flying monster around, Geralt has also gained the ability to shoot a crossbow.
GD - Wow, so it sounds like there's a ton of things to look forward to with the new game! What aspect of The Witcher III are you personally most excited about sharing with gamers, when the title launches in February?
MK - Only one? *laughs*
GD - Yeah, sorry to pin you down to just one
MK - I love the fact that the world really lives. And you can go anywhere and do anything. Even if it means jumping on a horse and going straight for several minutes just to get lost in a dangerous part of the land you haven’t previously visited.
GD - Lots of open world titles have tried to achieve a living, breathing world for their players, but if CD Projekt Red can do it, then it is going to be a lot of fun to explore. What do you think it is about The Witcher as a franchise that has given it such widespread appeal and captured the imagination of millions of gamers across the world?
MK - First of all, The Witcher games are damn good RPGs! At least this is what gamers and reviewers are telling us. Secondly, I think it’s connected to the story aspect I mentioned earlier--we’re creating very mature games but not in the sense that they’re brutal and feature sex scenes. They’re mature because they tackle really important problems like the atrocities of war, social inequality, racism and so on. We’re a thinking man’s RPG, I think.
GD - Taking a look at the industry as a whole for a moment, you guys have managed to make excellent strides in what seems like a tough business to succeed in. And so what, in your opinion, are the biggest issues facing games developers right now?
MK - In general? When I think of indies, I think that development costs can be an issue. Gamers are accustomed to really high AAA budget games and it’s sometimes hard for them to get over the lower production value to see that the game they’re playing is really good. On the other hand, access to digital distribution has made a lot of things easier and many devs can go super creative and skip distribution and physical production costs.
GD - Yeah, indie titles have provided some of the most appealing and creative games during the past few years. So one more thing, we have to ask, how did it feel to get name dropped by US President, Barack Obama, the other day? Is this kind of recognition a big step forward for gaming?
MK - It felt like a million bucks! And it was a really tremendous boost for the whole team here. Most importantly, it’s also a big recognition for Polish game development in general. There’s so many talented people here!
GD - Well thats all for now, Michal, thanks to you and CDPR for taking the time with us today! Its been great chatting and we wish you all the best moving forward. Keep those Witcher 3 gameplay trailers coming to help sate our Geralt appetite until the Feb 2015 release date.