The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Level Designer Answers a Ton of Questions About the Upcoming RPG
CD Projekt RED published a new intereview with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Level Designer Miles Tost as part of a new Community Developer Spotlight features on the game’s forums.
While the interview focuses mostly on level design, there’s more, and the answers are definitely interesting. You can check them all out below:
What is your name? Where are you from?
My newest nickname is “Mr. Deutsch”, I like to stick to my actual name – Miles Tost.
I’m from a tiny town in northern Germany.
How long have you been working for CDPR?
How did you find out about CDPR and how did you start working for them?
I’ve been working here since January 2013. Found out about them by playing TW2 when it came out (friends recommended to me I should play it, picked it up on release) and I ended up really liking the game. Eventually I caught up on playing the first game, which was to my shame, only after I had started working here. Since then I’ve also come around to reading the books. I first met CDPR at Quo Vadis, a German Developer Conference in Berlin and finally applied after meeting some of the folks at the recruitment booth at Gamescom 2012.
How did you get into level design? Is CDPR the first studio you worked for?
So…big reveal here: I like video games. A lot. One thing that has always fascinated me how well designed levels are able to convey certain messages (how mechanics work, where you need to go, even entire sub-stories) without the use of words. It’s quite psychological if you think about it and it makes creating a level almost like a puzzle to the designer itself. On the other hand I also played a lot of RTS, like WarCraft 3, for which I ended up modding quite a bit (in some other games as well, but none really as focused), exploring how, with only minimally altering the game mechanics, but applying greater changes or flatout creating new maps, I could enhance the experience. I would have LAN parties with my friends, playing various custom maps and seeing how differently they reacted to some of the things. Sometimes it went well…others, not so much.
Have you always wanted to work as a level designer? Was it always your dream job?
I didn’t know I wanted to unless I really started working here. I knew that I loved world-building but I also always loved the technical, psychological factor of creating worlds, the game design part. How do I make a player want to go this way, without not offering this other way? How can I make him use this ability without flat out telling him to? I always thought the job was more to one extreme: you either create art or you create sketches / do technical stuff like scripting all day. That’s why Level Design was never really on my radar, since I wanted to do a little bit of both. Not a big coder/scripter myself (on it though!), nor did I want to solely create art to implement according to how I am told to implement it. I know it’s like that in some other studios so you can’t imagine how excited I was to figure out that I could do the best of both worlds at CDPR. That excitement is only top by the excitement I felt when I actually got here.
What does the role of a level designer imply? What exactly do you do?
I sort of see myself as the bridge between the Environment Artists and Game Designers / Quest Designers. Where at CDPR Environment Artists make things look stunningly awesome and Game Designers create enticing mechanics, I try to make the marriage of form and function work. It’s really quite varied, depending where in the project development we are. At the beginning we used to create lots of maps of the subregions of the world, determining characteristics, basically planning and making sure the POIs of this world are consistent. One day I will be creating and/or finalising locations in the engine, shaping mountains, forests, the stones around a campfire. The other day I’d be pondering about why the player can’t find that thing they’re supposed to find and on even other days I’ll try to help NPCs not bump into objects by working on our Navmesh or going through all the doors in the world and make sure they’re properly locked/unlocked. Lots of other things in between. I recall a time where I briefly became an interior designer.
How does a level designer interact with members of other teams in the studio?
Which team works the closest with the level design team?
It’s hard to say, who Level Design works the closest with. Environment Artists are, like the Level Designers, part of the Locations Team, as in: we consider ourselves to be the in the same department. As Level Designers we work closely with Gameplay and Quest Design. And here it really is varied – sometimes we create locations because there’s gameplay or a quest that needs one. Sometimes it’s the other way round where we created a location that could really do with some additional gameplay or even a quest. For us it’s important that both, quest and gameplay implement naturally with the location, supporting each other. No good to have a location that tells the opposite story of what happened in a quest or to have a combat space that is just too small and has tons of objects in the way where both Geralt and Monsters can get blocked. It is when all of it comes together in a positive way, magic happens.
Could you briefly walk us through a typical day in the office as a level designer?
Uh, typical. Well – typical day nowadays is very different than half a year or even a year ago. It really depends on what state of development we are in. And even then, all sorts of things happen. Just the other day I spent a couple of days helping out Lighting Novigrad City and some villages. Apparently we have this dynamic time of day thing and people would like to see things at night. Go figure. Nowadays it’s a lot of bugfixing and even those are getting less and more and more minor. Early on there was a lot of making maps/sketches, preparing design documents for regions in our world. Then we went on and started implementing the first pass of POIs on the level. Then iterations follow. Playtests result in things working well / not so well. Changes need to be made accordingly, you do multiple decoration passes on each location until eventually it reaches final quality. Standards evolve as you “unlock” more and more new awesome tech, better looking assets get made, so you can end up doing multiple final quality passes
Then there’s things like…maybe a location looks really good but doesn’t play quite well for various reasons. Or it looks good but could be more/less interactive, etc etc. All sorts of “passes” really.
Can you name some of the tools you use daily as a level designer?
I use Photoshop pretty frequently. A notepad and a pen and of course – our very own Engine RedEngine3. Also, I use the coffee machine multiple times a day. Spotify is also a big one. It’s funny, when working on some locations, certain tracks would be playing on my playlist – and now when I look at these locations, I hear the song(s). Interesting phenomenon as you sort of associate moods, images, songs and even smells with places you made. Had a chat with Peter Gelencser (Senior Level Designer) about it, and apparently I’m not alone with this!
What are some of the tricks you use in order to make sure a player sees and appreciates a certain aspect of the game that you worked on, such as a point of interest?
Okay, I could go on and on about this and how much this fascinates me. Maybe the one that might be surprising to people not familiar with game development is that, at least here at CDPR, we use a lot of traditional image composition techniques, much like painters would use them. For example, you climb up a slope, you are greeted with a nice view. The view would be carefully crafted for this one (sometimes multiple) perspectives. We’d play with shapes and composition to help guide the eye of the player to objects/places we want the player to see and explore or likewise, try to hide certain things that way. Light also plays a big role here, as a bright spot in the distance can easily grab the players attention. It works quite subliminal and if you play your cards right, you guys feel like you all figured this super complex dungeon out on your own, when really… we had you by the strings all along! That is… until you turn around 180° and walk the other way…or is it?
Can you tell us about an especially funny bug you encountered while working on Witcher 3?
Hm, we actually have a folder on a shared network drive internally we lovingly refer to as “Screens of Glory”. Going in there is basically like opening Pandora’s Box. The amount of wickedness and hilarity in that folder is off the charts. Kinda makes me wish you could see it, at the same time I’m glad.
Once I had an object suddenly block the view on a dialogue cutscene. It was moving, so it was even more confusing to me. It was only after the cutscene I realised that it was literally one of our cats in the game that moved itself in front of the camera. Took me a while of contemplation to figure out whether this was a bug or a feature. Realistic cat AI, anyone?
In the world of the Witcher, who would the level designers be? What mindset would they adopt?
Would they be a merchant? Or maybe a sorcerer?
That is such a cool question and I can already hear my colleagues make fun of me no matter what I will answer here, haha.
Do you have any tips for someone that would want to get into level design? Assuming they have zero experience and don’t know where to start from.
Make something. First of all you should really try to figure out if this is something for you. So go and make something. Try to mod for some game you like. Mess around with the tools. Maybe you have some friends that you can create something with. Eventually you’ll want to create more focused work. It’s important to have stuff to show. People want to see how you think, how you work. Best way to do this is by taking a look at some work you’ve done. So whatever you focus on, be it some maps for a shooter or RTS or a dungeon for an RPG, make sure to think it through and most importantly: finish it. It helps to document your work, for yourself but also for others to understand what and why you’ve been doing certain things.
Start small, don’t go out with the goal of making a total conversion as your first project.
You are well known for your amazing hairstyle. How do you keep your hair in such pristine condition?
Are Witcher secrets involved?
Yes, I just aard myself in the face each morning and put hairspray on whatever result I get. Learned early on that contact lenses should be applied AFTER aarding, not before.
I have a tendency to notice in some games a use of forced perspective on asset scales, like the topology of a mountain for example, to make an asset seem huge from a distance but takes about 2 minutes to travel to and you find it’s really quite small and not that far away. I’ve also seen utilized a low focal length camera to make LOD assets appear smaller and more distant.
What was the Witcher’s philosophy regarding this?
Hm, good question! On one hand, you want your world to be believable, it helps us, that our world is reaaally big. Not bragging here, but it gives us a lot of space to simulate a more believable distance. On the other hand sailing for 30-40m in a straight line to reach one of the other Skellige Isles is not really a lot of fun. This actually was a thing at some point and when we realised this wasn’t quite as cool, especially since we’re making a game about Geralt the Monster Hunter and not Geralt the Sailor, we actually had to go out and move entire islands including content closer to each other (interesting topic right there btw). So while you won’t take actual days to travel from one end of the world to the other, some of your goals will still take you a reasonably lengthy amount of time to reach. Our philosophy here is that exploring the world, even just simply roaming off-road, should be fun and rewarding. Reaching a place in the distance that takes you some time and hassle to get to, but eventually you finally do and ideally you can look back and see “Woa, I came all the way from down there!”. I’d argue that just that by itself can already make for quite a rewarding experience.
How are your editing tools ? Painful, Pleasurable, or Ponderous?
All of these. Order may vary depending on developer, time since last coffee and how much exposure to sunlight there’s been in the last 24h.
Just how much level or area symmetry is there, if at all?
Dragon Age and other RPGs have environments that, if divided in two equal halves down the middle, practically mirror each other. This seems kind of sloppy and uninspired. In those instances, every area (and sometimes every other area) appears to have been generated by a script using same assets instead of being crafted by hand, if you will.
Unless it is meticulously crafted (elven) architecture, you won’t find that in our game. I mean, even then it will never be perfectly symmetrical, since people are not machines in the witcher universe. It’d be simply unrealistic – if you found something perfectly symmetrical in our game it probably would be the exception and it would have to make good sense why it’d be like that. Can’t think of a location that would be like that on the spot to be honest with you. We generally pride ourselves on spending extra time on creating and adding imperfections to every single location, again, to make it more believable.
Also: no, we don’t have magical “make level” buttons.
When designing dungeons did you go for a “horror”‘vibe?
Many turns and corners, etc, with areas made for monsters to take advantage of and ambush you.
With some we did, with some we didn’t. Sometimes you want to go for more of a mystical vibe, for example. It helps that, much like in the previous games, dungeons and caves are very dark unless you come prepared though. Luckily this time around, Geralt has a torch. Comes in handy should you not have your cat potion or if you have it, but already find yourself at the edge of the toxicity threshold. You can even fight while wielding the torch in one hand, however, IIRC it renders Geralt unable to parry attacks.
Does look quite spectacular with the dynamic shadows, though.
How big is the biggest dungeon?
5 (Okay, seriously. it’s 6.). There’s some really large dungeons. I guess some of them offer 1+ game time, depending on how good you are with combat, how thoroughly you explore them (SECRETS!!!) and how well you cope with being in utter darkness for an extended period of time.
Is there a level where all the fan questions go, and must escape from if they are ever to be answered?
Yes, same place where we put all the sick graphix.
Are we going to see lots of the same stuff all over the world?
e.g. DA:I has the same dead trees/logs everywhere I go. Please tell me you guys are making the world look and feel more real in every way.
Reusing assets is not untypical in game development, especially in open world games where there are huge areas of land to cover. However, with creative usage and combination with a variety of different assets, as well as a high variation of “basic” assets (last I checked we had more than 15 variations of chairs for example. CHAIRS.) you can mask the fact, that assets are reused. Sure, you might see one kind of crate reappear in multiple places in the world, but since we arrange all of them by hand, none will be placed like the other, especially since usually there’s all sorts of different decoration placed around. There might be something on top of the crate, some barrel next to it, etc. These things change and it helps making the world feel more alive that way. Note that reusing assets, even though we try to minimise it as much as possible, is necessary for us if we want to ever finish this game. It will not be jarring in the game, I promise.
Also…for my example it just had to be crates, right?
How many dungeons/caves are in the game and how do you keep them different (design and structurewise) without making it (feel) copy & paste?
By not copy and pasting them. We have some more or less modular asset sets, that “speed up” the creation of a dungeon. Don’t think of these as finished rooms however: it’s more like small pieces of walls, bend in varying angles. Every cave/dungeon is built completely from scratch and decorated individually.
This results in every single cave having a unique layout.
Did you design areas with the enemies in mind?
Something like “alright I’ll place some ponds here for Water Hags, I’ll make this hilltop a clearing so the Griffin can nest here, oh and I musn’t forget a clear sky so the Harpies’ movements aren’t restricted” etc. Or were you more focused on making sure the player had some sense of direction/orientation and wouldn’t get lost?
I don’t think those points are mutually exclusive. Generally: yes, often, if we knew about a fight having a high chance of happening around a certain area, we would playtest it and make sure it plays out smoothly. Possibly add some destructible objects to make the fight look more spectacular / give the player the chance to use the environment to his advantage. If we knew what the creature was, like the Griffon you mention, we’d also try to reflect it living within the area and influencing the eco-system there. Trees around a griffon nest, way before you even get to the nest, might be broken half way and show marks of scratching. Apparently they use trees to build their nests and if you have a close look at your surroundings, you can see all these hints in the environments that not even Geralt notices.
What will the Point of Interest density be like for the sailing?
Can’t really answer this accurately, but wanted to assure you guys that there’s more to the open sea than the main islands of the Skellige Archipelago.
Is there a particular area or piece of level design that you are particularly proud of, and a big step up from the previous game or other RPG’s in this genre?
Let’s get back to this post release.
I see lots of steep, rocky mountains. Are those basically no go zones, or are there passages that snake around mountains, or to the summit? Or perhaps tunnels going through?
Mix of all of these things. Some are inaccessible from one angle but might be traversable using a different path.
Are the most of the doors closed in Novigrad? Can we access a lot of the buildings in the city?
Some doors are permanently closed, many others open up to you as you make new friends in the city following different quests – many more are “generic” houses that add another layer of storytelling to the city. They don’t really have any quests attached to them, but entering them offers an interesting view as to how the people in that very district of the city differ from others and how they live their lives.
In the poor district for example you’ll find people making the most out of what little space they have, holding on tight to every single thing they own (most of which the people of rich district would consider junk). To come back to the accessibility of houses in Novigrad: I feel like you’d be surprised just how accessible the city is. MANY open buildings. Don’t have an exact number, but it exceeds a hundred by far.
Novigrad is the most impressive medieval city I’ve seen. How many of those buildings have actual interiors that we can enter?
More than a third of the houses, IIRC.
Are there in game some super long and complicated dungeons?
About the map borders: I’m wondering about all the area between the edge of where you can go, and the farthest you can see, so if you can elaborate about that I’ll be happy.
It’s said that if we see something interesting, we can go there. Now if the border is an ocean or a steep mountain that blocks the view of anything beyond it, there’s no problem, because there’s nothing to be seen. However, and this is under the assumption that at least one map-border will sprawl out in regular terrain, what did you do to make it still believable but not tease us with cool things that we can’t reach? Is there even such an area beyond the border of “can see, can’t go” that is designed with as much care as the rest of the world?
Good question. You’re right, that’s exactly a balance we tried to maintain. Ultimately, we have to come to terms with the fact that our game is just that: a game, and as such it has to end somewhere. As sad as it might be. Generally you’ll find that outside of the borders of our world, there’s nothing of great interest placed. You might see some landmarks, like a distant lake or mountains, etc, but nothing that would be a genuine POI to the player. I guess it is in the realm of “believable” enough and it’s something that you can quickly get over simply by turning around and facing towards the playable area. I guess you could say that we failed in our efforts of making this a great game where exploration is fun IF you constantly want to leave our world and ignore all the POIs we placed within the playable area. That’d hurt my feelings. :'(
Since this is an “multi-region open world environment” how does that effect the flow control of the various points of interest? How does the open world level design direct players towards the goal of a given quest and attempt to prevent confusion and/or idling? Is it just quest markers? Are any of the levels you have designed time sensitive? Are there consequences to abandoning a quest mid-story?
Each of the regions that’d be divided by a loading screen are planned and executed independently from each other, when it comes to POI placement. This means that Novigrad / No Man’s Land have been designed as if they were one entity (no loading screen in between) and Skellige was designed on it’s own.
We have heard from several sources that the world can change based on choices the player character makes in the game.
Have you developed any points of interest or levels where you have to plan for multiple scenarios depending on prior choices the player has made in the game? If yes, how does that affect your design and what is it like designing for these varying possibilities?
Yes, been there – done that. There’s a special kind of pleasure quest designers derive from having you create a beautiful location, only to have you destroy it and put it through all kinds of wicked misery right after. Sometimes it’s even different kinds of misery, since locations have more than two different states. So depending on your action, there’s multiple ways this village gets messed with. We get back at them though, by topping their wickedness with a little of our own. “Did that corpse REALLY have to imply him dying THAT cruelly?” or “Okay, since we’re all about exploration, we need to make this bigger and I put optional stuffs all over the place, you now just need to implement this puzzle I thought of.”
Are you satisfied with the world you have created? There’s something you would change/improve now that the contents are locked?
I really love the fact that we managed to create a consistent world. I remember days of planning with Peter about having POIs focused on enhancing the world’s overall believability. Every village is there, because the people decided to settle there for a reason. They all have their sources of food (or used to *cough* No Man’s Land *cough*), they have “their” thing, like this village might specialise in fishing, this one seems to build ALL the carts/waggons in the world – oh there’s people making coal, I wonder where they get the wood for that… would you believe it, there’s a lumbermill closeby next to the forest!
You get the drill. Nothing is placed just for the sake of having it there. If we found ourselves wanting to make a village at a hazardous place, or generally a hard to live in area, we’d actively research and try to implement how these people would’ve done it and how the environment would influence their lifestyle. So these guys live on the side of the mountain, they need to fortify their houses with additional scaffolds. Why would they go through all the trouble of living there? Because there is this super unique resource that they gather and can make a living off. I remember in Skellige we had planned a farmstead to support the “believable infrastructure” thing, which we ultimately ended up removing since the Story Team told us “Skelligers are not farmers. They pillage and take what they need.” (We ended up replacing the crop farms by cattle farms – Skelligers still need meat after all!)
I know it won’t be much (if at all), but how big is the environmental destruction?
Reasonable. We had way too much at one point resulting in all sorts of havoc (NPC pathing being messed up, PCs glowing red and melting) and it feeling less smooth for the player as well, with all the debris everywhere. So we toned it down a bit, but you can still have some fun wreaking destruction to all kinds of things using Aard or bombs.
One of my pet peeves in Skyrim was following a river upstream and finding that it just disappeared into a group of rocks into the side of the valley, and that would make me remember how implausible the topology in Skyrim actually was.
I was wondering how close attention you guys paid to real geomorphology when designing the world of the Witcher 3, and are there any specific locations in the real world that you guys modeled your terrain off? Did Skellige for example borrow any features from specific Archipelagos in Norway?
Oh definitely. We use a lot of references when creating our environments. Not only photos and concept art, but sometimes even paintings. I’ve answered this indirectly in other questions. We care a lot about creating a consistent world, but at the same time our possibilities are not limitless. I’d love for every river to have a source that maybe you can even explore and find something cool in, etc, but I’m afraid then we’d never release the game or would have to sacrifice quality elsewhere.
How did you make Novigrad’s five districts feel different? Did you change up the architecture, the way the buildings were placed maybe?
They are architecturally different in that you can notice the wealth of the people living in there simply by what material has been used to build the house and in what shape that material is. The poorer the district, the dirtier you will find it. People will be vastly different. No beggars sitting on the streets of the Rich District. You are more likely to be attacked at night by a group of bandits when in the poorer districts as well.
Interiors – Are TW3’s interiors qualitively different from Tw2’s? How so? What kind of environmental puzzles are there?
Tons and tons of more detail, even in the most unimportant interiors. We like to take our time and make it so you can tell what kind of person lives in a place, just by studying the interior of their house. Most obvious is whether he’s rich or not, but then there’s also habits and characteristics you can pick up on. I remember creating the interior of a very poor guy, who (untypical for poor people in our world) was hoarding a lot of books and had a dedicated reading corner, somewhat hidden away in his house. He seems to be smarter than the average peasant. Why is he trying to hide that fact? Nilfgaardian Spy or maybe just a scholar with a streak of bad luck? And with this you sort of end up shaping your own version of this guys story in your head and perhaps you might even find more indication to support it.
How did you go about creating the level design for the Ciri missions?
Are the levels/areas vastly different to Geralts open world? How do they differ? And what challenges did you face and what did you enjoy about designing those levels?
Ciri’s gameplay sections are a lot more linear in their design in regards to the actual locations. However, they are only like that when you play as Ciri and some of them later can be freely explored by the player as Geralt. In terms of making this feel believable, it’s helpful that Ciri never got the hang of weaving signs.
TW2 had great level design in my humble opinion. It was fun to explore, filled with detail, I never got frustratingly lost, and most importantly it felt like a real place.
Were you able to manage the same level of detail and “handcrafted feel” for TW3 despite the world being 35 times bigger? Did you have to sacrifice or change any of that?
Ha, as I answer this I realise how crazy it sounds – but yes. I firmly believe we did manage that and even brought it to a whole other level than W2.
What time of the year is it in the Witcher 3?
I’ve always wondered that even though Skellige is farther south than most of the Northern Kingdoms, it still seems to be permanently covered in snow and frost whereas Novigrad and Temeria aren’t. Is it mainly altitude that determines this or is there some other kind of weather phenomena influencing that?
If you look through old screenshots of Skellige and compare it to more recent ones you will notice that we defrosted Skellige quite a bit. There’s multiple reason for this, including the altitude relative to the actual north in the witcher universe, but I can’t really go into it now without spoiling anything of the story. Stylistically for us in the Locations Team though, its more interesting to create and look at semi-snowy environments rather than ones that are basically just white. Not to say that creating winter environments is impossible or that they are generally boring, but rather that it is more difficult to make them interesting and break the monotony. So we went with …both, really.
It’s said in the books that many main human cities were built on elven ones, such as Novigrad. Did you keep this in mind when designing them? If so, what did you do to give that vague elven foundation? Or did you work under the concept that it’s been such a long time ago that there’s barely any elven touch left?
Always something that I remembered from the books and I always tried to bring up and pester people whenever there was a chance for it. Without going into further detail, all I can say so far is:
One thing I noticed during the newest gameplay video is the really apparent pop-in of distant vegetation, buildings etc as the game was switching between different LOD levels. Is there a way this will be mitigated by the time the game releases?
Like for example, in Witcher 2 you guys used a dithering technique to make the transition between the LOD levels a lot less noticeable, but it seems this sort of method is completely missing in Witcher 3 and the LOD’s just switch instantaneously. Was it a technical limitation/ performance issues that prevented you from using the same method as W2, because W3 is a lot larger and needs to draw a lot more objects, or was it simply not implemented in time for the press event?
Not my area of expertise, but I do know that code is working feverishly on something for this.
What did you do to make sure the underground levels are still varied, in size, design and mood? It seems to me you have much more limited tools when crafting these maps, and I hope they won’t feel copy-pasty.
Hand-Crafting everything and being aware of possible repetition you constantly go and challenge yourself to create something new. Let’s take Elven Ruins as an example. We always try to think what purpose these ruins might’ve served at some point and how we can translate this to the player without additional dialogue. Ancient Aqueduct or Necropolis maybe? How can we take this function and make it understandable, elaborate on it? Maybe we can try and show the process of burial, the rituals, etc. Embalming Chambers, a grave that looks more important than others, etc. As with caves, there’s a lot more room to play with, especially factoring in a degree of suspension of disbelief and an allowance for grounded, yet a bit more fantastical places. One motivator for us was to have caves always feel worth exploring and one factor for this is definitely by having it look different in ways that the player never knows what he will find.
Can we climb every building in game?
As long as Geralt can reach it, you should.
About Skellige, will it have any fairly large settlements or will all of them be small villages? Also besides the main island will we see settlements on the other smaller islands?
P.S. Can they fully and unequivocally confirm that oxenfurt will be in the game? (Yes i know that I’ve asked before and many have users have answered yes but i wont be happy until I hear it directly from the devs.
You win three ‘Yes’es.
Will we get a densely packed forest?
Why only one?
How do you decide that a dungeon/area/etc is good enough to be implemented into the final product?
Dungeons are not created in a separate place and then imported into the game. We build them right into the level and make sure everything fits in proper. If, even after multiple playtests by many different people and after several iterations it doesn’t feel “good enough”, we cut it. Sometimes ideas don’t work out and just sound more awesome on paper than they really are. Sometimes events have it that one place gets reused for something entirely else, something that fits this place better than its original intention. Ultimately it boils down to playing the location in context and without context and feeling whether it is deemed adequate for the experience we’re trying to create or not.
Miles Tost is the best person to ask about Easter eggs… Can we assume there will be more famous dead bodies for us to find?
I have it here crossed off my to-do-list with a check mark: “More famous dead bodies.”
We know you guys like dead bodies of the famous kind.
How much do you believe a location can tell a story?
Blood, broken furniture, small details of daily life etcetera, adding detail without exposition or explanation. I’m thinking of the houses and their individuality in Flotsam.
Can this interact with Geralt’s senses?
I feel like I have at least hinted at this in other answers. Short answer: Yes, locations can tell stories of their own and also help telling the story of a quest. Some of these Geralt will be able to pick up and comment more on, some of these will just stand for themselves without further explanation and left to your imagination.
How did you decide how far apart to place villages/towns?
Aside from how it would be like in real life, how did you balance that with player needs?
This is especially true now that we’ve learnt weapon repair requires blacksmiths, and alcohol needs to be bought for potions.
Honestly, we winged it initially. Then you implement quests and encounters, communities and playtest as you go and ultimately end up pissing everyone off when you ultimately have to move the village. Haha, I’m kidding – it didn’t happen very often, but we did have some instances where for various reasons we had to move larger locations. Sometimes you have just the content moved, so one village that was less important might suddenly get promoted to a “main quest” village, because it happens to be in a more convenient spot. As with the remainder of your question: lots of playtesting and iterating.
Are there areas that require certain mountaineering skills, to be taken at level-up, in order to reach?
We actually used to have something like this – using perks/potions to increase jump distance or increase the amount of time you can spend underwater. It was really tough to design locations with this in mind, without having players that went a different skill-path feel like they’re left out. Also balancing it got to be a problem, as increasing the jump distance of players through skillpoints meant that the player now could suddenly reach an uncountable amount of new places, which they player shouldn’t be able to reach (locations that open through quest for example). Lastly, the design didn’t really fit with the schedule. You either make a lot of these “special” places, only reachable with the perk, but then you have even more content the other players might feel left out from. Make less of the content and suddenly the perk doesn’t feel worth investing in anymore. So instead, we counted our losses and we opted to just make more content for everyone to enjoy.
Transition between outside and inside will have no cutscenes, the same for sewers and dungeons?
Yes. I mean, sometimes you might enter a dungeon/sewer part on Cutscene, because you are being accompanied by someone. In general however, there’s no loading screen between these spaces and you can transition freely in between them outside of quest. Interesting challenge by the way, fitting an entire sewer system underneath Novigrad. In games with loading screens between sewers and the rest of the city, you are free from size constraints, as these sewers can be created “in their own space”. In Wild Hunt however, we had situations where we had to alter the path of a sewer because we found there was a basement from a house in the way or vice versa. Some houses couldn’t have basements because the sewers were running right underneath it. Other times we’d make use of these situations and allow the player to break into the sewers below through what looked like a regular basement.
Since Geralt is now a lot more nimble and can get to more places than ever before, just how big a role does verticality play in TW3 when it comes to level design?
It’s fairly important, since it allowed us to grow the world into a different dimension, if that makes sense. I mean, the game is by far no action platformer and Geralt is not Mario or Ezio for that matter. But it did enable us to make some use of situations where we could offer a further branch with the player finding a secret passage through climbing / jumping.
So … I don’t know, you might have a quest where you a) get to talk your way into the fort b) fight your way into the fort or c) maybe take a look around and find an alternate route inside. It’s usually of course not this clear cut, but you get the basic idea.
The way we usually like to implement Geralt’s newfound jumping ability is in an optional manner, where it’s part of exploring the world and rewards some additional goodies for those brave enough to venture out. Top of my mind there’d be a place of power only accessible by performing a series of jumps; you can complete the game entirely without doing this though.
Kaer Morhen, what we can do there?
Is it just a prologue place or we can come back and explore -maybe a secret door, with secret book , with secret sword and secret story (at least as dlc)?
Fully explorable region. And no, I’m not just speaking of the castle.
I’ve played so many games where the scale feels off. Like a game can feel too small and claustrophobic, like ME2, where it just feels like every planet hub is just a small area and even the dungeons feel small. Or the opposite, games like Kingdoms of Amalur, feel too big, like oversized.
How do you focus the scale of a large, open-world game so that it feels large, but still appropriate to scale for a single-player game?
I do think Skyrim did a great job in giving players a large world that felt very well scaled. What kind of thoughts or designs go into scale for TW3? It is an aspect of games that I notice as I play them, but not something I understand much about. Any thoughts you’d be willing to share about this, I’d love to hear.
Hm, I actually had a hard time figuring out whether there’s anything “special” we do, to … let’s say “deceitfully” simulate the world’s scale. It really is just working with how objects relate in size to Geralt. If you’re standing next to a tree, you get a pretty good idea how big that tree is. If you see the same tree in a distance away from you, you will be able to gauge how far it is away simply by how large the tree appears to you – the smaller, the further. So far, simple enough. I think the problem that many games might’ve found themselves in so far is, that because of the limited amount of actual area they had, people needed to come up with tricks to make distances feel larger than they are. Resulting in awesome views and weirdly short trips to “that thing far away.” For us, I feel like we didn’t really have that problem.
The sense of scale and distance evolved quite naturally, because if we wanted to put an object far away, we would put it far away. Now talking about individual objects, we like to keep it close to realistic size but are not afraid to put gameplay in favor of realism if need be. Interiors would be one example here, which tend to be quite small. To improve gameplay here, we have a special interior camera that zooms in a bit closer to Geralt’s shoulder. Helps with making these spaces play well but at the same time emphasizing how small some of these living spaces really are.
Combat places in interiors had to be planned a bit more in depth and tested multiple times to make sure everything feels comfortable. It’s of course also a production issue with interiors, since larger buildings would need more time and performance budget spend when decorating. So again, multiple factors as always.
Is there any specific level or point of interest you have designed or helped design that you are especially proud of? What about that particular point of interest makes it stand out to you?
Yes. Let’s chat about this after release. Although I did mention in one of the other questions that I’m really proud about the consistency of the world with the focus spent on creating a believable infrastructure. Nothing that many people will actually notice I reckon. I believe there’s this situation where people will “feel” the world is seemingly more alive than in other games but can’t really point their finger on what “it” is that makes it so. It’s the sum of all these seemingly unimportant/hard to notice details, that’d be the answer to that question!
Is water in No Mans Land implemented as a plane throughout, resulting in a single water layer?
Is this why Geralt must climb a ledge to enter the Tree Hearts cave, or are you guys simply “ledge-happy”?
We do have “zero level” water, but are able to decide whether this applies in underground locations or not. To be frank, with the Tree Heart Cave, we also wanted to show off Geralt’s newfound jumping and free-climbing abilities. The ledge you had to climb to enter the cave is no result of any limitations of sort, but rather a design choice. Of course, with different caves you’ll have different ways of accessing them. Like walking.
Interactivity – Can Geralt move objects around as a tactic? What sort of destructible environments can we expect?
Are the muck, beehive and swamp gas examples the norm or the exception when it comes to taking advantage of the environment?
Yeah, they’re fairly frequent. You can of course create your own gas clouds to ignite with certain kinds of bombs. Some bombs will also attract monsters through smell, which can be an asset to the player as well. Lots of stuff you can move around/destroy for the fun of it, not all of it is particularly useful other than for the eye candy and empowerment it might give to the player.
Got to have a little fun every once in a while, right?
We know the world is quite large, so most of it must have been just generated. How much of it actually does get the hand-crafted level design treatment?
Ah, we in the Locations Team are really proud of the fact that everything is hand-crafted, which is why you keep hearing us say it over and over. Your conclusion there makes my heart almost hurt just a little bit. So for this reason, to be a hundred percent sure, I called in what is now called the Environment Council, consisting of me, Daniel Olejnik (Senior Environment Artist) and Marcin Michalski (also a Senior Environment Artist).
We discussed this and shed a couple of tears together. Enough of it is hand-crafted for us to not feel like lying when we say that everything has been hand-crafted by us. Even when the team created the basic land shape it started out in zBrush, then got some erosion applied via software, and then iterated in-engine (sculpting the terrain without terrain brush tools). Terrain Textures are painted by hand, assets including foliage are placed by hand as well. We do have foliage generation for a basic foliage layer based off the type of terrain texture used (which again is painted by hand). It will apply a layer of grass. However, any further vegetation, trees, bushes, flowers, etc, are all hand placed.
Think about Novigrad City: none of the houses have been placed procedurally or by an algorithm, the city was carefully planned and crafted all the way from the rough districts to individual pathways in between (or through) houses. Also I realise that the question might’ve been meant differently. In that regard: Terrain was shaped by hand, erosion effects are applied, at this point, there’s virtually no spot of terrain in the world that hasn’t been touched by a dev.
Yes, it is an insane amount of work that we did have to sacrifice our fair share of evenings for – but for us it’s just worth it and honestly, we firmly believe it makes for a better game, because it makes the world more enjoyable.
If we wouldn’t we would’ve not done it, right?
Personally, I alsmost cannot believe that we’re closing in on the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It has been one of my most awaited RPGs for quite a while, and on May 19th, that anxious wait will come to an end.