The developers at CD Projekt RED sure have a lot on their plate these days. Not only are they breathing new life into the old-school pen-and-paper Cyberpunk series with their video game adaptation in Cyberpunk 2077, they’re also right in the middle of working on one of their most ambitious projects to date: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. In this recent Q&A with the good folks over at Rock Paper Shotgun, senior quest designer Jakub Rokosz and head of marketing for CD Projekt RED Michał Platkow-Gilewski took the time to answer some questions about what we can expect from the upcoming next-gen three-quel.
What follows is an excerpt of that interview:
“Rock Paper Shotgun: I’d like to start with the most important question. Why does Geralt have a beard now?
Michał Platkow-Gilewski: [laughs] That’s a tough question. When it came to redesigning the character, we made a survey of the company. We asked all the girls here, what’s the sexiest thing about the guys in the office? They all said the beards are the sexiest. So we came up with this breakthrough design change and added the beard. No, just joking. A few months have passed. Geralt is on the road, you could say?
Jakub Rokosz: Right now he’s pretty much a man left on his own, after what happened in Witcher 2. He basically wanted to get a little alone time. I think the beard signifies that, that he spent some time in the wild. He didn’t really have to worry about looking good for the ladies out there.
RPS: It’s an interesting dichotomy to set him loose in an open world like this. I mean, you’ve been saying that getting his memories back has made him more focused than ever on his main goal. It seems like he has something he really wants to do now, as opposed to just wandering. Why did you decide to use an open world to tell that story?
Jakub Rokosz: To be honest, we always loved the narrative part of the Witcher series. We really like the way we tell the story. But we always felt that we were restricted by the way we allowed the player to travel to locations. They were always small, closed locations. We knew that if we wanted to give you the feeling of Geralt searching for his meaning and knowing the world, this wouldn’t work. The open world was the only right approach for this, to be honest. Geralt, right now, after two games and restoring his memory and stuff, I think he needs to find himself again. This is part of his journey as well.
RPS: In other interviews, you’ve noted that you’re paying close attention to the strengths and weaknesses of worlds like Skyrim. How so, though? Where do you think Bethesda and others most need to improve?
Michał Platkow-Gilewski: It’s hard not to mention Skyrim, but I believe that our approach to our game is totally different. What they created was an open-world RPG. What we’re doing is a story-driven RPG set in an open-world environment. For us, the most important aspect of the game is always the story. And by “story” I mean not only what’s happening, but also the choices and consequences, the moral gray areas, the good or bad characteristics of the NPCs that make them believable. After you meet them, you’ll remember who they are and why they do what they do. All that is the most important thing for us.
But this time we wanted to put all of that in an open world. It’s a big challenge, but we’ve identified all the tricky parts of it, and we’re working hard to give a great storytelling experience in this open world. As far as asking what will be the consequences of your actions, there will be a lot of them. You know Witcher 2. We want to bring all of our experience in this field and put it in an open-world environment. Bigger and smaller actions will all bring you to small or huge consequences.
It’s enough to tell you that we’re preparing three totally different epilogues depending on how you finish the game, with different choices somewhere in the middle. There will be 36 different states you can leave the world in. By states, I mean more significant changes, not every single change you’re involved in.
RPS: How do you a tailor an open world to be conducive to really good storytelling? In general, they’re best for player-driven types of things. When you’re trying to tell a player a story, how do you change open world design?
Jakub Rokosz: In our case, in The Witcher’s case, it helps in some fields. One of the biggest problems we had in The Witcher 2 is that to keep pace between the story and the game itself, we had to sometimes overload the player with information. Just so they could understand the mechanics and the world and the consequences of their choices. What the open world gives us is that, because we have this open world consisting of three different regions, we can build areas up from local communities to whole countries or peoples, and we can tailor the whole experience, the whole story arc of what Witcher 3 will be about… We can tailor it at both the macro and micro levels.
Even the smallest quest about some person who has troubles with monsters outside of his hut, we’ll tell you a little bit of story about it. Maybe this pack of monsters arrived because the war’s on and they were driven away from where they used to be. We got to a point where we decided to tell the whole story at every single level.
RPS: It sounds like those types of missions will fill in the gaps. They’ll tell you a little bit more about the world. With the main story, though, Geralt’s quest, how linear will that ultimately be? Will that just be like, “Go to this city. Now, to continue the main quest, go to this other city”?
Jakub Rokosz: What you just said, that example… This really conflicts with our point of view on the open world. It doesn’t make it an open-world game if you just make a huge world and ask the player to go from point A to B to C in exactly the same order every time. When we create our game, it’s always in our heads that the player can go anywhere and do anything in any possible way.
We think that the main story will cover around 50 hours. The thing that you said about the other quests filling the gaps, that’s probably another 50 hours of content. Then there’s a lot of other gameplay quests. But to answer your question, we don’t want to make anything linear. Where we can get away with not making it linear, we’ll do it.
As an example, there will be a main plot, a main storyline, but we won’t treat it as a chain of quests. It’ll be more like the theme for everything you’re doing. You’ll travel through a diversified world, and in the different regions, you’ll have a main storyline for each region. You might complete it, or you can abandon part of it. All that will move the main plot somewhere. By doing something or not doing something, by being involved in it or by skipping whole quests.
Michał Platkow-Gilewski: Also, not doing something… When you’re finishing the storyline for some area, there’s also a significance if you choose not to do anything in relation to things people ask you to do. The story will be all around you, to a greater or lesser extent. Sometimes you may think that you’re not doing anything related to the main plot right now, that you’re not advancing it, but in reality you will be. It may have some impact on the main plot as well.
RPS: You’ve mentioned that hunting will play a much larger role this time around, but how does it work? There’s a sense mode now, right?
Michał Platkow-Gilewski: Yeah. We call it “Witcher senses.” All these mechanics, gameplay mechanics, reflect our idea that in The Witcher 3, you’ll be more Witcher-ish than ever before, in every single aspect. Not just story-wise, but also gameplay-wise. We’ve implemented a lot of changes in the combat to make you feel like the ultimate sword-master. That’s who Geralt is. We introduced Witcher senses as well.
These are actually many tools. They’re not just one thing. These are tools that reflect your long training and the augmentations in your body. So when we’re talking about using them to find clues, it’s basically something you activate with the press of a button. You’ll see more and hear more. When you see it, it’ll be as if the screen fades a little bit into shades of gray. All the points of interest around you will be highlighted. It’ll be easy for your to spot something.
Jakub Rokosz: Drag marks or footprints or [what have you].
Michał Platkow-Gilewski: Yeah. This is one layer. Further in, sometimes, in some situations, you’ll be able to predict or judge what might have just happened. You’ll see small, simple animations showing what happened in a place. For example, if you see a body that’s been murdered somehow, with these skills you can see some of what happened – how the guy died.
Jakub Rokosz: Geralt, because of his knowledge of anatomy and movement and stuff, he can reconstruct the events that took place and you can see a visualization of it.
Michał Platkow-Gilewski: Yeah. He can anticipate what just happened. Other uses of Witcher senses… If you enter a deep, deep wood – I’m not sure why I’m always referring to a deep, deep wood, maybe it’s just attractive to me – but if you’re in a deep, deep wood and you can’t see anything, with the Witcher senses you can hear more. You can hear something from one direction or another, and when you walk toward that direction you might find it. Maybe a monster. This is part of the set of tools that will help you feel that you’re the Witcher – not only human, but something more.”
There is a whole lot more where that came from, so be sure to check out the full interview; and don’t forget to check back with RPS tomorrow for part-2 of the interview, which is said to focus on combat and the development process, working alongside the Cyberpunk 2077 team.
Some of the more interesting bits of the interview deal with the story-based consequences Geralt will have to deal with for every decision he makes. While the Witcher series certainly isn’t breaking any ground by having choices affect story progression and the final conclusion of the story, the devs are hard at make trying to make every decision feel like it truly matters. With such a diverse range of epilogues, the game will seemingly feature far more replayability than the majority of similarly open-world RPGs. I’ll be interested to see if CD Projekt RED can match their own ambition when it comes to creating a massive and vibrant world for players to explore.
On a relatively irrelevant side-note: If anyone knows where I can find a well-crafted replica of Geralt’s wolf medallion, let me know. I want one of those bad boys so bad it often keeps me up at night. Well, not really, but you know what I mean.
While no official release date is yet confirmed, the team has stated that The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt will launch simultaneously “on all high-end platforms” in 2014.
Are you looking forward to Witcher 3? Between this and Cyberpunk 2077, which of CD Projekt REDs upcoming projects are you most excited for? Share your thoughts in the comments below.