Interview: The Witcher 3's Game Director Discusses Story, Battle, Next Gen and Lack of Multiplayer
When the first gameplay footage of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was shown at E3 I was definitely enthralled, possibly more than with anything else I saw during the Microsoft press conference. As a fan of the series from the first game (even before the Enhanced Edition finally gave it the popularity it deserved), I couldn’t help but think on just how much progress the series and its developer made in less than six years.
That’s why it was a pleasure for me to get a chance to have a chat with the man at the helm of The Witcher 3‘s development: Game Director Konrad Tomaszkiewicz. What did he tell me? Read on…
Giuseppe: The Witcher‘s saga now counts two games and a third is coming, and you’re sitting on top of an amazing success story after starting with a small studio and an engine borrowed from BioWare. How do you feel about it? Did you ever imagine, back then, that the project had the potential to gather this much support and fans?
Konrad Tomaszkiewicz: Thank you for the kind words! We had a vision and we always wanted to make the best games out there. I know it may sound a bit cheesy for someone outside of RED but if you ask anyone in the company, we actually believe in the games we make – everyone’s a fan and we’re all supercharged with even the tiniest news mention about our game. Even despite there’s 200+ of us! Did we imagine this would happen? Does dreaming count?
G: Several people at CD Projekt went on record saying that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be completely seamless, with no loading screen at all. Is that limited to exteriors, or we’ll see absolutely no transitions between exteriors and interiors as well, and within interiors?
K: Since streaming such a big and detailed world may prove difficult, please do not treat this as a promise but…yes, at the moment, that’s the plan. We’re working very hard to make exteriors to interiors transitions fluid, without any loading screens. We want to give gamers a truly immersive world.
G: Geralt has grown a beard for The Witcher 3, and he also looks a lot more rugged. Is this just an artistic choice or maybe there’s a deeper meaning behind this change?
K: Actually, there is a deeper meaning behind this. In a nutshell, Nilfgaard is invading the Northern Kingdoms – there’s a lot of chaos. Geralt is free from the political influence he was subject to in The Witcher 2. For the first time, he’s on the road and has his own private, highly emotional agenda. He doesn’t have the time to mind his appearance, he’s way more rugged and, dare I say it, even more masculine. Some heavy stuff is going to happen in The Wild Hunt, we wanted Geralt’s appearance to reflect that as well.
G: Combat and progression have undergone a lot of streamlining in the latest patch of The Witcher 2. Can we expect this trend to continue with the next chapter? Will there be major differences?
K: The Witcher 3 approaches combat in a very evolutionary way, despite the system being totally redesigned, it still retains the spirit of its predecessor – it’s much more fluid and responsive and less chaotic but still incorporates what players loved in TW2. Players will now feel each swing and the camera will complement each move. Each press of a button represents one swing (i.e. one animation) – there’s no button mashing hack and slash here – this system makes the combat in the game super responsive and the skirmishes themselves very intuitive.
We’ve added a ton of new action sequences when compared with TW2, Geralt can adopt various stances in combat (that totally changes the way the skirmish looks like). There’s no Quick Time Events and no scripted combat. Additionally, the Signs system is redesigned as well – every Sign now has an alternative form which allows a multitude of tactical options in combat. What’s more, you can combine different skills from every skill tree to make Geralt truly your own character. There’s a lot of new and awesome stuff coming your way and we’re still working on making it even better.
G: There’s a fantastic Skyrim mod called Frostfall that involves the ability to camp in the wilderness and the possibility of hypotermia. Hardcore RPG fans are going crazy for it, as it adds a lot of immersion to exploring the open world of the game. Is there any chance to see anything like that in The Witcher 3, maybe as an option?
K: We’re constantly thinking about adding features that enhance immersion but our most important feature is still the emotion evoking story. We want gamers to be pulled in because the world has a lot to offer and not necessarily because you can die of, say, thirst by travelling through it. The Witcher was and always will be about the story, the characters and actions and consequences – everything else comes second. This doesn’t mean that hardcore gamers aren’t important for us, we’re hardcore gamers ourselves so we do understand the need for that extra challenge. Having that said, you can be sure we’ll introduce some elements that will cater to those needs.
G: Will we see a return of stealth gameplay elements in The Witcher 3?
K: We don’t plan on introducing any stealth elements in The Witcher 3.
G: For someone like me that likes to dabble with modding, the REDkit is the best thing invented since chocolate, but looking at the number of available mods, adoption seems to be a bit slow, probably due to how late in the game’s life cycle it was made available. Are you going to try and release something like that for The Witcher 3 at launch or close to it?
K: On the other hand, the story mods like LYKAON feature more hours of extra gameplay than some commercial games out there and Full Combat Rebalance introduces some major stuff into the combat system. As for The Witcher 3 – we’re exploring the possibility but we want to focus on delivering the game first. You know us and our policy of supporting our games – even now, so long after the launch, we’re releasing patches and fixes to The Witcher 2. This may seem insignificant to many but it all takes manpower to prepare and develop these.
To create REDkit and adapt it to the community we had to allocate developers who commit to the project entirely. That meant they are not working on The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 which, in turn, means longer overall development.
G: The Artificial intelligence of villagers and similar characters was quite advanced in The Witcher 2. They went about their business and found shelter from the rain for instance. Is it this going to be improved further in the new game? If yes, how?
K: We aim to enrich this part of the game with enrooting NPCs in local lore. During E3 we showed you a monster-hunt with Leshen. The villagers had their own backstory – the monster was part of their lore, a tiny bit for the gamer, but the whole world they were brought up in for them. Putting NPCs in context like that makes them more believable. As for other new features we introduce, communities will react to weather changes and will even migrate if the situation demands it (being threatened by The Hunt etc.)
G: Previous The Witcher games were pretty saucy. There has actually been a marked increase in the “erotic” contents from The Witcher to The Witcher 2. Some felt it was a refreshing change from the norm. Can we expect a further increase on the adult-oriented themes with the third chapter?
K: The Witcher was not a game for adults because it portrayed erotic content, it was a game for adults because it painted a picture of a deeply disturbed world full of strife, social inequality and war. At least that’s the way we see it. Putting sexual content in games just for the sake of raising the age category and calling the game “adult” is cheap and we won’t go in that direction. Having that said, Geralt will have the opportunity to engage in more intimate relations as well as the world will continue to be as gritty as before.
G: You’re at the forefront of the adoption of the next generation consoles. Are you already working on the devkits? What are your impressions of the Xbox One and PS4? Are there any marked differences in horsepower between the two?
K: Yes, we’ve been working on Microsoft and Sony-provided devkits for some time now, well before the consoles were officially presented. As for the differences between the two — both are very potent pieces of hardware and developing games on them is a pleasure.
G: Will the game look any different on different platforms or you’re aiming to make it look the same? Can gamers with high-end PCs expect better visual fidelity at maximum settings like for The Witcher 2?
K: We’re aiming to deliver the same experience on all the platforms – we’re developing The Witcher 3 on next gen platforms so visual cutbacks will not be the case here. Eyecandy for everyone!
G: Draw distance is crucial factor for immersion in open world games, but many developers kind of ruin it by abusing distance fog (that modders promptly find a way to disable or reduce). How far will we be able to see on the maximum graphical settings on PC? Will the draw distance be limited or reduced on consoles?
K: This has to do a lot with optimization and optimization is one of the last processes of development. It’s hard to tell at this point. Get back to us with this one when we’re closer to the premiere!
G: There has been a lot of talk on cloud features for next generation consoles, especially to offload AI calculations and similar elements to the cloud servers. It’s one of the most publicized features of the Xbox One, and the PS4 apparently can use use it as well at the publishers’ discretion. Will you make use of those features, or at least are you considering it?
K: We’re considering every option and there may come a time we’ll utilize the cloud in this fashion but for now we’re not planning to put anything outside the hardware in your home.
G: The Witcher games have always been purely single player experiences, but the upcoming generation seems to be full of talk about persistent worlds and online features. Are you considering any kind of online gameplay for the third chapter or you’re sticking to your guns?
K: The Witcher has always been about experiencing your own, unique adventure. We can assure you that we won’t sacrifice our trademark that is immersive, single player storytelling for the sake of other features, just to have them. Designing the game is a lengthy process, during which many elements are taken into consideration, but ultimately your uninterrupted gaming experience always comes first. No, we won’t have multiplayer in The Witcher 3.
G: Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer to my questions. To conclude, here’s a bit of a change of pace: there has been a surge in MMORPGs with more dark and adult themes on the Korean market, but basically nothing in the west. Some would consider it an untapped market and The Witcher franchise would be perfect for it. Have you ever considered a MMORPG based on Sapkowski’s IP? Personally, I’d play it in a heartbeat, and pay a monthly fee for it without a single regret… Bet you I’m not the only one…
K: Haha. The answer to the previous question should cover this one as well. Do we ever plan on making a MMORPG? I don’t think so. Now we’re focusing on delivering you the best single player RPGs out there. Having that said, we have some very cool stuff up our sleeves so stay tuned for more information from RED!
There you have it. Looks like I utterly failed at baiting CD Projekt into making me a Witcher MMORPG. Maybe it’s a good thing, because if they did consider the idea I’d probably find a lynch mob at my doorstep. And I tend to be allergic to lynch mobs….
That said, The Witcher 3 looks and sounds like an experience every RPG fan can look forward to. I know I am.