We go monster hunt with The Witcher 3’s producer.
It’s one of the more anticipated games of 2015, and for good reason - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is looking damn good.
Sure, maybe the E3 demo wasn’t the best at showing off just how much freedom you’ll have when playing, and it made combat look a bit simple, but a 40 minute preview for a game with the scope that The Witcher 3 has (you’re looking at over 100 hours of gameplay) is always going to struggle to fit everything in.
Following the demo, I got to chat with Piotr Krzywonosiuk, the game’s lead producer, to talk about these concerns, and everything else from accessibility for new players to CD Projekt Red’s position as some sort of folk heroes for their anti-DRM, consumer-focused attitudes.
Can you please just introduce yourself, and explain your role on The Witcher 3?
Yes, my name is Piotr Krzywonosiuk, and I’m lead producer with CD Projekt Red.
What are your responsibilities? As a producer, I take it you’re involved with overseeing the project?
Yeah, basically it’s like you said, overseeing. The production team is responsible for making sure that the game is released on schedule and to quality, and this is done by setting the course for the entire team by providing information, facilitating communication, setting goals, and giving priorities. So that’s basically what producers do, they drive the project.
I’ll admit, I haven’t played the first two Witcher games. How easy will The Witcher 3 be to get into, for someone in my situation?
Super easy. The Witcher: Wild Hunt does not require you to know anything about the previous games, because it is a standalone story. Y’know, it might be a continuation in some ways, but actually it’s a story on its own.
And for us, it’s super important that we introduce new players properly to the game, so when you launch the game, the prologue will do this. You start with the basics, what it is to be a witcher, what witchers do. They’re monster hunters. So we introduce the story behind the character, and the mechanics, and so on and so forth, then we gradually introduce characters that are important for this story. Some of these characters were present in previous games, some weren’t, but again, all in all it doesn’t matter because it’s a whole new context.
And in the other direction, how much is designed to appeal specifically to people who’ve played the previous games?
I really hope that whoever played previous Witcher games, they will love being able to return to Geralt, to play Geralt. He’s much improved now on many levels, especially in terms of combat, but also as a character. The Witcher: Wild Hunt is a really personal story of Geralt of Rivea. The Witcher 2 was more about the global conflict, the war was about to happen, kings were getting slain, and now it’s all about Geralt and his search for his loved ones.
The Witcher 3 has a big open world that looks very impressive from what I’ve seen in the demo. Are you just thrown into this massive world from the start of the game, or does it gradually open up as you progress?
Like I said, we want to gradually introduce the player, so a few adventures will keep them in a separate location. But if you want to skip all that and just dive into the story, you can definitely do it. The way products are crafted now, the first hour or two are supposed to teach you the basics.
Choice and consequence is a big thing for The Witcher - how open is the story? How much does the story branch?
In terms of numbers, we have three endings, and several dozen - three dozen - possible states of the world at the end of the game. These are a direct consequence of the choices you’ve made as you play.
It’s a really cool feature right now - in previous Witchers, too, but especially in Wild Hunt - that the choices you make will matter. You’ll see the consequences, we have means to show those consequences in the game. For example, if you look at the demo - I’m not going to spoil anything - but if you look at the choices made in the demo, they will have consequences that you see a few hours later through a series of flashbacks. And it’s a really cool thing, because it’s never a trivial choice between good and wrong, unfortunately it’s usually choosing between the lesser of two evils.
The demo showed quite a linear quest progression, just because of time constraints, but when you’re playing I assume you can just do what you like? When you start a quest, are you locked into it until it’s complete, or can you go off and do other things?
Almost at any time you can stop what you’re doing and do anything else. If you want to hunt monsters, there you go. If you want to do some minor quests, sure. If you just want to explore the world and talk to NPCs, no problem. You can come back whenever you want.
Is there a quest log or something similar to help you keep track of what you’re doing?
Yes, it’s called the journal. It’s one of the files in the inventory. It’s a really good place to refresh, and get back to the game.
As far as character progression goes, how does that work in terms of levelling up and getting stronger? We didn’t see much of that in the demo.
Again, the demo has restricted by time, but it’s a big element of the game. It’s an RPG, after all. Story and open world are important, but so is character development.
It’s a bit different than it was in The Witcher 2, we redesigned it a little bit. Right now, when you progress through the game, you gain experience through fighting enemies and completing quests, and then you level up. But it’s on several levels, you can develop abilities according to a witcher’s skills. So you have three of those: sword, magic, and alchemy, and you can develop these however you like.
You are basically modifying the witcher’s DNA, and you can try different setups. If you don’t want to get into too much detail, we will have presets for you. Maybe you want to be a fighter, so you can just pick that setup.
We saw a little bit of combat in the demo, and looked a bit… like a basic hack ‘n’ slash, which I’m assuming isn’t the case throughout the whole game. Can you talk about what’s different with The Witcher 3’s combat, compared to other, similar games?
Combat is, again, very important to the game. And it’s so complex, man, I don’t know where to start.
Okay. Geralt has two swords, right, but he doesn’t fight using those two swords at the same time, because one is silver and should be used against certain creatures, beasts and magic enemies, and the other is steel, to be used mostly against human opponents. He wields a crossbow now, and he has five Signs [magic abilities], each of which has two aspects. Just to give you a short example, if you take a defensive spell, one aspect is just a simple shield to protect you from one hit, but there’s also another aspect if you hold the button that shields you from multiple blows.
But, look, it’s important to us that combat is not only smooth, but allows players to take a tactical approach. So we have two cameras, one from above showing the whole battlefield, and one that gets real close, showing you how it is to be a witcher, to slay monsters. In combat - this is important - you can parry blows, and you can counterattack, so good timing is needed. There are lots of possibilities there for the players, and through tutorials, we will teach players how to use all those gradually.
CD Projekt Red has been getting a lot of coverage for its consumer-focused stance on things like DRM and collector’s editions - which look amazing. Obviously, the response from fans has been good, but have you found that this is having an influence on other developers? Have you seen others taking a similar approach?
I hope so, but I don’t know. [laughs]
Is there anything else that you want to talk about, that you want readers to know about the game?
No, but I can just summarise it. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is coming in February 2015, on PC, Xbox One, and PS4. Wait for it, it’s going to be f***ing awesome.
Great, thank you from NZGamer.com!
Unfortunately, this interview took place prior to this morning's leak of design documents for The Witcher 3, so we were unable to ask Krzywonosiuk about that.