Leaving A Mark – CD Projekt Red reflects on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
CD Projekt Red discusses how it made the game of the year, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
How has it been seeing the response to The Witcher III?
Karolina Stachyra, senior writer: It was many things, but “humbling” is the first word that comes to mind. Pardon the down-to-earth example, but it’s a bit like looking in the mirror before a Friday night party – you did your best to look good and then people start telling you that you look smashing. Over and over again! And if you’re a humble person it’s just so empowering. Deep down inside, you feel this overwhelming satisfaction that every hour spent on coding, designing, painting and writing paid off. There’s so many talented people with so many cool ideas in the studio, and it’s a personal victory for everyone. Thank you!
Did you have a feeling that your DLC plans would resonate heavily with gamers?
KS: We hoped they would! As a studio, we believe that we owe content like that to gamers as a way of saying thanks. Gamers invested their hard-earned cash in our game and we owe them support and a little something extra.
So we researched what gamers could want from a game like ours, planned a healthy mix of quests, modes and items and got to work. We’ve always emphasised that, if we released something and slapped a price-tag on it, it would have to be huge enough to justify asking money for it. Hearts Of Stone required a lot of effort to create – an entirely new story, new characters, new gear. You need to create that, localise into different language versions and so on. This is something we think it’s fair to ask money for.
One of the things we loved about The Witcher III was that the ending relied more on your smaller interactions and behaviour with other characters than on a boss fight or a binary choice at the end. Could you tell us a little about how you planned and achieved that?
Paweł Sasko, lead quest designer: It all stems from the fact that this is an mature game, crafted for a mature audience, and getting different results on the basis of binary choices has nothing to do with maturity. We love to think that our game resembles real life – and life gives us unexpected choices pretty much all the time. We wanted the game to feel like that, so we had to break a few established design principles to achieve it. That’s why the most important choices were not telegraphed to the player and we designed lots of them, small and big ones. In some cases, the player can intuitively feel that a particular choice is leading towards something, but that was done only to give the audience a bit of common ground and sense of familiarity. Also, choices are not based only on things you say in game, but also, what you actually do.
Designing such a behemoth of a story is a huge task and it took us many months to finalise the first draft of all main and side content. Everything was prepared in cooperation with writers, led by Marcin Blacha, our story director, and quest designers. At that stage, we designed all the important choices leading to the biggest branches in the story and started adding lots of small decisions that made everything way more organic.
When quest designers finished the implementation of drafts of each quest, the exhausting process of reviewing content was started. All the leads and Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, the game director for Wild Hunt, have been playing the game and offering feedback with the goal of rising quality. During these reviews we carefully checked all of the dialogue in the game and made sure that it all resembled real-life choices.
Having built your way up to this open-world experience, does it almost feel like a shame that the Geralt story is over? Would you like to do another story in this universe?
KS: I like to think that good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Yes, we love Geralt and we’re really attached to the world he lives in, but he deserves some rest. Plus, we don’t want to become a studio that milks their character dry, we’re not like that. On the flip side, it’s not the end yet. In the first half of 2016 we’ll be launching Blood And Wine, the final expansion to Wild Hunt and I can promise you it will be as kick-ass as we can make it, with a new realm to explore and tons of new stuff. But I can’t say more at this time.
The Bloody Baron quest, Family Matters, is the one that seems to stick with most players more than any other. Did you have a sense that this thread of the game would have a big impact?
PS: The Family Matters quest is very personal for me because I was the one who designed it, with tremendous input from Karolina Stachyra, who wrote all the dialogues and cutscenes for this quest line. We had both put our hearts into this story and characters, we invested lots of time into polishing it and it’s a great reward to hear that people like it.
The Bloody Baron is a symbol of the whole of No Man’s Land – a victim of war, broken by alcohol and violence, with a destroyed personal life. Thanks to the fact that we decided to tie up the fate of Ciri with that of the Baron, we had lots of screen time to show him from multiple perspectives. We designed each scene in a way that, step after step, allows the player to learn something new about him, and, usually, it’s opposite to what the player has already been told. All this allows gamers to make up their own mind about how they feel about him and I think this level of freedom is something rarely seen in RPGs. Perhaps that’s why gamers liked this part of Wild Hunt so much.
Looking back, is there anything about The Witcher III that you would have done differently?
KS: Oh my, this is a complicated question, even if it seems simple at first glance. The answer is both yes and no. Developing games is almost always about time. With Wild Hunt, we set off to create a giant open world, inhabited with various peoples, animals and so on. We’ve never done that before, so we had to learn. Everyone had to adjust their way of doing their job to cater to this new environment we were in. For example, at the top level, writers had to create different “choice and consequence” branches in quests to allow quest designers to incorporate that into lower level gameplay (“talk your way out of something vs. beat everyone up”), level designers had to create points of interest that would be fitting of an open-world game, and the sound teams had to cater for various times of day and weather conditions… And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
My point is, we’ve spent a lot of time coming up with solutions to make all that work in unison and be fun. Looking back, with the experience we have now, we could have probably done many things twice as fast and invest that extra time into adding even more cool stuff. But that’s only theory, you just can’t skip some things. However, you’ll definitely see that experience in our future games like Cyberpunk 2077 or even in the upcoming expansion, Blood And Wine.
What do you think the legacy of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt will be in the gaming space?
KS: I sincerely don’t know. Words like “legacy” are better left for gamers and critics to use than for a developer. I’m sure that we’d be proud as creators and artists if other companies adapted our way of looking at things like DRM or mature narratives in games, but this is as far as I’m willing to go. In reality, it’s up to the people who play our games to answer that question in a few years. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll leave a mark.
CD Projekt RED has really raised the bar for open-world games – what do you feel is next for the genre?
KS: Thank you for saying that! We’ll do our best to top what we’ve done in Wild Hunt, and there’s still much more cool stuff ahead. Any world can be bigger, any dialogue better, any story more captivating. We’ve gained a ton of experience creating The Witcher and we’ll use that to deliver something we can be as proud of as we are from Wild Hunt.
Does The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt make the cut of our 100 Greatest Games Of All Time? You’ll have to read it to find out.