The Witcher 3: Exclusive interview with game director Konrad Tomaszkiewicz
The end of Witcher Week on PSU has come to bear, and that means it's time to present the granddaddy the week's exclusive stories.
We talked about The Witcher 3 on PS Vita via Remote Play, forthcoming summaries of The Witcher 1 and 2, CD Projekt RED's anti-DRM stance, and even the five things you need to know about Geralt's third and final journey.
It all stems from this. PSU readers, our interview with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt game director Konrad Tomaszkiewicz:
This is your first time developing and publishing a game on a PlayStation platform, and a next-gen one at that! How would you describe your relationship with Sony? Have any new developments or relationships happened that brought you over? When did PS4 discussions first take place?
Konrad Tomaszkiewicz: First of all, we love the fact that we can share The Witcher universe with PlayStation gamers worldwide! Our relationship with Sony is very good--they provided us a lot of support and took extra care so everything went very smooth at the beginning. As for the talks, we’ve been in contact with Sony for a long time now, but I can’t go into details--launching a new platform is a very secretive and delicate process, I hope you understand.
Sure! But the PlayStation nation of fans is desperate to experience the first two parts of Geralt's journey in an accessible way--on their favorite console. Now that you're bringing The Witcher 3 to PS4, are there any plans, or even, any conversations, about porting The Witcher and The Witcher 2 to PS4 or PS3?
Let’s take it one step at a time. We’d love to publish all Witcher games on the PlayStation but we have limited capabilities since we’re currently working on The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077. For now, we’re not planning on porting The Witcher 1 and 2 to the PlayStation. However, don’t worry--if you’re afraid that you won’t be able to play The Witcher 3 without knowing the plot of the first two games, it’s not the case. The Wild Hunt is a standalone story and does not require you to play the previous games. Additionally, to give you that additional background if you want to broaden your knowledge on the universe, we’ll release sum-ups of the previous games so you won’t miss a thing!
Every PS4 game, including The Witcher 3, can be streamed to PS Vita at a hardware level. As a developer, do you have to do extra work or make any special considerations for this feature? What control challenges do you see arising with playing The Witcher 3 on PS Vita, and are any concrete plans or solutions in place to address these?
Everything is a question of the design philosophy you adopt during the early phase of the preproduction process. We designed The Witcher 3 to be a very streamlined experience as far as control and the interface go. Remember that interface differences are not only the case for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita--as a multi-platform developer we also need to take into account the differences between all the platforms. This means we need to introduce solutions that are flexible and universal so the game runs smoothly and provides a similar experience on all platforms, including the Vita. Our first and main objective is to lock the final control scheme on the PlayStation 4 itself; only when this is done can we provide support for alternative control modes later on. Since we’re still adding functionality to the game and testing the friendliness of our control schemes, we can’t say much about the Vita yet.
On the topic of control schemes, at the moment, are there any planned uses for the DualShock 4 controller's touchpad in The Witcher 3?
Currently we’re in the process of designing unique features for all the platforms. We have dozens of ideas but all of them are in testing right now and only a few will make it to the final game--that’s why I wouldn’t like to disclose any at this time. Ask us closer to the launch!
Will any graphical cutbacks need to be made for the console versions of The Witcher 3?
No! The next generation of consoles has come exactly when we needed it. The Witcher 3 will unleash all of the potential of REDengine 3 and will truly define the beginnings of the RPG genre on the next gen. Our aim is to use the potential of every platform to the fullest capacity and utilize the strong suits of every one.
Switching gears, in the wake of high piracy rates for The Witcher 2, CD Projekt RED adopted a very consumer-friendly stance on DRM--incentivize the purchase, give outstanding long-term support, and the like. Can we expect the same approach to The Witcher 3 in the coming years? What obstacles do consoles present to the traditional updating methods on PC? Will PlayStation Network be a suitable platform for the kind of free content, mods, and other updates your fans have come to anticipate?
We believe that pirates are just misunderstood customers. That’s why we always try to approach gamers from various angles and see what makes them tick (i.e. trust us and buy our games). Many developers seem to adopt a business model similar to the movie industry where all the focus is put on hyping the movie before release and then, after the launch, they basically forget about the IP (until they want to make a sequel). While this may work with movies because they’re not interactive, games are not the same. We decided to build our business on trust and a mutual understanding of sorts--you buy our games and we genuinely give a damn about your experience with them. Someone might say that this is just “good PR”--no! It’s a real business model based on fair trade--you give us your money and we do our best to give you a product you’d like to pay for (for the respect to the authors) even if you managed to obtain it for free. Being honest pays off!
Can you expect this sort of treatment on the PlayStation? You can expect we will do everything on our end to extend this business model on Sony’s console. We always do everything we can to be as gamer-friendly as we can. We just don’t believe in DRM.
Used games haven't been a PC mainstay in years, but the used market is a hot-button issue in the console sector. What impact do you anticipate used game sales having on The Witcher 3's retail success? Which console manufacturer, Sony or Microsoft, is on a better path of consumer policy as it affects you, a developer with a bottom line to think about?
It’s hard to anticipate because of all the different factors in play. First of all, it’s difficult to predict the size of the new console market a short time after launch--people will buy the next-gen consoles but it’s difficult to estimate how many. Putting this aside, we’re making a game you just don’t want to sell. It may seem cheesy to say this but think of it this way: everyone has a favorite series of games, movies or books that he or she just wants to have on their shelves and pop in the drive or read from time to time. We’re working hard for The Witcher 3 to be such a game. The game’s very big (35 times bigger than The Witcher 2) and will offer a lot of replayability--it’s almost impossible to see everything and witness every aspect of the game during the first playthrough. Not to mention the multiple (and I really mean multiple) endings and playable epilogues. We’re really hoping The Witcher 3 is a game you’d like to keep for yourself. If you want to resell it, it’s fine by us. It's your game, after all.
Let's move to talking more about the game, specifically. What was the motivation behind moving to an open world with Geralt's latest adventure? Was it a response to the massive popularity and mainstream acceptance of other open-world RPGs, or just a new challenge for the team?
No. We always wanted a world without borders but we have a specific philosophy of evolution--we want to make quality games and quality takes time. All the Witcher games have been constantly leading to us opening the world for the players. The Witcher 1 has established the world, introduced the universe to gamers previously unfamiliar with Sapkowski’s work, and was a valuable lesson for the studio in terms of, well, making quality games (it was our first AAA game). Having that knowledge, with The Witcher 2, we could focus on mastering storytelling and evoking emotions, choices and consequences--the dark side of morality gamers are fond of while playing our game. The Witcher 3 and introducing an open world to the game is the next logical step--we know how to make a game, know how to engage the player... It’s time to make the experience even more complete and remove the virtual boundaries.
Speaking of evolution, The Witcher 2 drew some criticism for its unforgiving combat and some balance issues. Specifically, what were the most valuable words of feedback given by the community and critics, with regards to Witcher 2 issues and Witcher 3 development?
The source of many problems gamers had with The Witcher 2 was an unfortunately designed learning curve--we had assumed certain things and the community corrected us. Thanks to the massive feedback we’ve got, The Witcher 3 is now a different game. Gamers also had issues with the responsiveness during skirmishes. This was one of the first things we changed in Wild Hunt--the combat now feels much more fluid and precise. It’s an intimate experience and we’ve added several layers of tactics on top of it so gamers will be satisfied. We’ve also greatly enhanced the camera system, just like we did in The Witcher 2 for the Xbox 360.
That’s only a fragment of the changes that we’ve introduced in the game--there’s a lot of smaller modifications as well. Potions, for example, will now be activated during combat (preparing them before battle is still required though). We’ve also got group AI--enemies can try to flank you and their morale can increase or decrease depending on Geralt winning or losing the fight.. In general, the skirmishes are less chaotic and players will have a lot more control over what’s happening.
Given that all side quests are cinematic, fully narrated affairs, what are some challenges to the randomly generated approach--games like Skyrim--as well as to your approach with The Witcher 3, where you're carefully crafting every detail of an entire world? Which approach makes a better game?
I think the answer is obvious--we’re very far from procedurally generated content being better than content designed and executed by flesh-and-blood developers. Having that said, we’re not enemies of an element of randomness in our game, not everything should be done by hand. But in terms of telling a story or engaging gamers, the more that is part of a plan, the better. Our approach is definitely more demanding in terms of development. We had to double our quest design teams and our writers are always over their heads in work, but it pays off--our world is coherent and seamless. And it really pulls you in.
As one of the first announced next-gen games and arguably the first true next-gen RPG, how does it feel (and what are some challenges) to being on the cusp of that cutting-edge development wave? Any feelings to share on next-gen console technology and leading the charge with such an ambitious project?
It’s really rewarding and humbling at the same time. It’s also a big responsibility for the entire studio and for each and every one of us. When you’re in the spotlight, you either rule the world with your game right off the bat or you simply don’t exist, remember that the launch of a new platform means new IPs that are well-marketed and usually very good games--you can't just make a game that’s “just good," you have to excel. As for the next-gen consoles themselves, they’re amazing. The horsepower alone justifies the wait--we can do pretty amazing things in terms of graphics and we won’t hesitate to feed your eyes with copious amounts of candy. That, plus the extended functionality of the consoles, will make the years to come real fun times to play games in.
What opportunities for domestic role-playing will be offered in The Witcher 3? Stuff like tavern games, home building, relationships, property, etc.?
At this point I can confirm tavern games and mini-games in general (e.g. axe throwing in Skellige). As for home building, I think we won’t go in that direction--the world is in turmoil as Nilfgaard invaded the Northern Kingdoms and you’ll see more houses burning than being built. That said, we probably will introduce a place or two to keep property in, but that’s to be determined in the future. Relationships will be present in the game but I don’t want to go into details now. What’s most important, however, is Monster Hunting. Calling it a “mini-game” would be a major injustice so we’re treating it more like a new game mechanic. Geralt is a witcher--he basically hunts monsters for gold. Imagine this: you’re passing through a village and you hear in a tavern that the locals have a problem with people disappearing in the forest. People are desperate so they decide to hire you. First you’ll have to find clues to determine what kind of monster menaces the villagers, then find the monster’s vulnerability and then the monster itself. The best part of it all is that all these stories are well-rooted in the local folklore--the villagers will tell tales about the monster from their youth, for example. This creates a feeling of a coherent world and it’s one of the things we’re extra proud of.
During the E3 gameplay demo, I saw cliffsides and forests that reminded me of similar areas in The Witcher 1 and 2 where invisible walls or environmental walls kept players from entering inconvenient areas. Will the same walls guide exploration in The Witcher 3, or can I, say, jump off a 200-meter cliff into the ocean on a whim?
The short answer is: you can go everywhere within our huge game-world without invisible walls. If jumping cliffs is your thing, you can break your neck as many times as you wish! The world you see is as seamless as we can make it.
How will NPC violence be handled this time around? Am I free to attack townspeople, attract guard attention, and the like?
We’re exploring many options at this point. Currently, you won’t be able to attack townsfolk, but this may change depending on the direction the team finally decides to take. It’s a question of the universe itself--Geralt has been trained to protect people from monsters and killing them would mean he’s becoming a monster himself. Killing townsfolk breaks immersion and derails the narrative. Since we deeply value storytelling, we will always go with the option that supports it rather than giving you a choice that the world doesn't benefit from. If we choose not to give you the option to kill NPCs, it's not because we can’t do it, it’s because the overall gameplay experience will benefit from it in our opinion.
2014 is a wide window for release; I know you guys aren't ready to narrow that down just yet, but can you share how far along the game's development is, either as a percentage to completion or how fast development is moving along?
We’re moving steadily and without problems. It’s ready when it’s done ;)
That's a wrap on Witcher Week, but it's far from the end of our The Witcher 3 coverage. Read my E3 preview of the game, check out our game gallery for videos and screenshots, and hit up our Witcher Week hub for previous coverage. But before you go, sound off in the comments if The Witcher 3 is on your PS4 radar.