Every year at E3 there’s always one or two great games that somehow slip under the radar. Maybe they are tucked along the back wall of South Hall or nestled within the sleepy confines of Kentia but when you play the game you realize you’ve seen something new and cool. At this year’s show, The Witcher was one of those games. Up until that point we had seen some screenshots and read a little bit about the game but it really took seeing the game in action and reading a little further into the plot of the game to realize that CD Projekt had something special going. After begging for an interview we finally got a shot to send over a few questions and here’s what we got back.
Can you introduce yourself and discuss your role on the project? How long have you been in the gaming industry and how did you get into it in the first place?
My name is Michał Madej and I am the chief of the designers’ team at CD Projekt RED. My main responsibility is the coordination of work on different levels of the game, but I also work on constructing the story of the game as well as take care of the overall concept.
GamingNexus: First things, have you managed to land a publisher for the game yet?
Michał Madej: Not yet, but our talks are moving towards a successful resolution. Mind you, this is a very important decision, so on the one hand we strive to advance the process of securing a publisher, but on the other hand we don’t want to rush because choosing the right partner is a critical issue. Our goal is to find a company with which we can work together on a permanent basis; the company which will aim for active involvement in the process of building a great reputation for the game. Despite the fact that the game has a lot of positive buzz surrounding it, for the time being it is scheduled only for the PC-market release, which complicates the whole process even more. As a direct consequence, a few publishers need to be ruled out for a simple reason that for them multi-platform release is a necessary condition if they are expected to take interest in any project of this sort. Nonetheless, I am of the opinion that you can expect to hear the long-awaited announcement soon.
GamingNexus: Since the Witcher books have yet to reach the US, can you talk about the setting of the game and the background behind the world/character?
Michał Madej: The world of the Witcher is based on the novels and short stories of Andrzej Sapkowski, who created the world of fantasy following his own recipe – a very good one if we are to judge by his popularity in the countries where his works have been published. The phenomenon of the Witcher’s world is based on the fact that on the one hand it is classic fantasy writing with magic, different races, monsters and the like, but on the other hand a great number of elements existing in this world surprise us with their modern attitude and breeches of classic conventions. The most important of these is that there is no definite division of good and evil; just like in the real world, it all boils down to personal decisions and moral choices. In the times which the story depicts, most problems have their origins in the post-war chaos: damage inflicted upon the world results in poverty and waves of racism as people look for those guilty of their misery among the representatives of other races. The commercial routes are haunted by bands of thugs and mercenaries. The kings, in turn, are more focused on splitting the loot and politicking rather than looking into ordinary people’s problems. This, of course, comes as no surprise, as the post –war chaos is the right time for a lot of organisations and other powers to try and expand their area of influence. The witchers— among them the main hero, Geralt— find themselves drawn into a web of such intrigues.
GamingNexus: How involved was Andrzej Sapkowski with the development of the game?
Michał Madej: Andrzej Sapkowski, as a writer, is so engrossed in his new series of novels that he has decided to limit his contribution to other projects. Following the initial debates and after we have presented the script, he gave us the benefit of trust that we would come up with a good adaptation of his work.
GamingNexus: Is the game based on one of the books or are you just setting the game in the world of the series?
Michał Madej: The story of the game takes place five years after the conclusion of the events from the book, and is supposed to be their continuation. An additional attraction for the gamers who have been acquainted with the witcher’s saga will be found in clear references to its content: you will recognise some of the characters, as well as follow-ups to some of the events. Simultaneously, the story of the game is constructed in such a way that any gamer—even one that is experiencing the witcher’s world for the first time—will easily get immersed in the story that unfolds in front of his eyes.
GamingNexus: The RPG market is getting a bit crowded as of late, what makes The Witcher different than all the other RPG’s on the market?
Michał Madej: The Witcher offers something unique to the RPG fans – a unique atmosphere of the game, the chance to get emotionally bound to the main hero. We have done all we could to ensure that the gamers will enjoy the level of interaction reserved for classic RPGs. In this difficult task the richness of the witcher’s world is extremely helpful, as is the specific background (blurring the lines between good and evil), a great range of non-player characters and behaviours, as well as an impressive bestiary! We have created a unique, non-linear story which allows the gamers to reach the end via three paths. The fate of the main hero is in gamers’ hands and every single decision made on the way can have some impact on the forthcoming events. The game requires some maturity and experience; not just when confronted with females’ relaxed attitudes toward sex, but mainly when it comes to making decisions and accepting their consequences. The Witcher offers a special blend of a classic game with a fresh attitude. The gamer will find all the elements he expects to see in a good RPG, but at the same time will be surprised by novelties in the game’s implementation. The story will really be immersing and full of unexpected twists, where we shall define ourselves the concepts of good and evil. The feature which allows our game to stand out from the others most is its fascinating multi-plot story. We’ve drawn from the best blueprints of this genre to come up with an epic story which will suck the gamer into its environments minutes after the installation of The Witcher. What I personally regard as rather important is the fact that this game is for mature gamers. We have rejected white-and-black clichés and focus on presenting a realistic world with a realistic hero.
GamingNexus: You're using a heavily modified version of Bioware's Aurora engine for the game, why did you go with that engine than building your own? What kind of enhancements have you made to the game engine?
Michał Madej: Step by step, we have modified over 70% of the engine, including rendering (which makes use of DX9), the game’s mechanics (fights, development of the character, etc.), as well as the toolset which we call “D’jinni”. The graphics engine now matches the level of modern FPS games; we make use of the latest technology, such as pixel shader, normal mapping, etc. Regarding the game’s mechanics, we have had to make modifications in order to suit it for the needs of the real-time gameplay and the specific characteristics of The Witcher. The D’jinni toolset is a brand new invention; I do not want to elaborate on that as it could be the subject of a separate interviewJ. All I can say is that we have managed to create a modern and powerful tool. All of the operations connected with the development of the game are now done with the use of just one application. What is more, the implemented changes can be observed in real time while actually playing the game. This really is a cool tool.
GamingNexus: One of the really innovative things about the demo we saw at E3 was that the game was completely controllable with just the mouse. Can you talk a little about the system and how you came up with it?
Michał Madej: This was one of our primary goals: to make the game as intuitive as possible in terms of controls, while at the same time offering a well-developed system of tactical combat. We have found the ideal solution which joins classic, tactical elements with the dynamics of modern products focused on sheer action. The system allows you to control the character with the use of the mouse only; however, bearing in mind the habits of hardcore gamers we also let them play with WASD. The arcade aspect of the game is based on the ability to perform a combo sequence of moves at the right time. Though this is not a hard task, it still requires concentration; thanks to that, fighting will not become a routine, boring task…especially if you notice that we have implemented six fighting styles with more than 250 combat animations, prepared with the use of motion-capture technology!!!
GamingNexus: What kind of skills and attributes will the game feature? Do you have any favorites? Will players be able to specialize in the game (i.e. focus on magic over combat) or are the skills a little more general than that?
Michał Madej: The game comprises 250 such skills, grouped in “trees”: attributes, fighting and magic skills. As a result, the gamer will be able to specialise in general skills, but he can also choose a narrower specialisation. The most important fact is that a gamer will always become a witcher with a unique set of abilities to fight with his sword and magic, combined with supernatural powers and magic potions. Everybody will decide for themselves if their character should become a killing machine or a more subtle hero who develops his magic skills.
GamingNexus: Can you talk about the combat and magic systems in the game and they are different from the system gamers have seen in other RPG’s?
Michał Madej: In the process of designing the magic and combat systems, we followed two basic assumptions: fidelity to the book and accessibility for the gamer. We have based our work on simple and easy-to-grasp solutions instead of the hard-core mechanics from pen-and-paper RPGs, which are not always so intuitive. The combat allows the player to follow six styles – three for each type of the sword (a witcher has got two swords: a silver and a steel one). You can have a fast steel sword, a quick steel sword, or a group steel sword. The same options are for silver swords. The gamer will use each of them, depending on the power and number of opponents; monster or human opponents also make a difference. In terms of magic you will find 5 witcher’s signs, simple but very effective spells connected with five elements: Aard (telekinetic strike), Igni (fiery strike), Quen (protective shield), Axii (mind control) and Yrden (magic trap).
GamingNexus: About how many different quests and side quests are in the game? How long do you expect it to take the average gamer to complete the game?
Michał Madej: Overall we will offer around 200 quests, half of them on the main path, half of them sub-quests. The quickest route to victory—following the main plot of the story—should take around 30-40 hours. You can double the amount of time if you wish to complete all the tasks and explore the world.
GamingNexus: The game is said to have three different endings, can we expect a dark, gray, and light kind of ending or will they be a little more complex than that?
Michał Madej: There will be no endings in “good”, “bad” or “neutral” style – absolutely not! This is not the type of game, and this is not the type of world. Decisions which need to be made are difficult; they are of personal nature and their result might sometimes be painful for the main hero as they influence the global situation and the lives of friends and foes alike. Surely, any ending will be a personal success for the hero; all that remains is the question of how high the price of success shall be...
GamingNexus: I know the release of the game is still a way off but has there been any thought to releasing any content packs once the game has been released?
Michał Madej: At the very moment we are not intending to release any content packs after the game’s release. However, having the right toolset and fans in mind, we reckon there will be quite a lot of additional content for the game. The D’jinni toolset enables the user to easily create additions and modifications for the game. The creative response from the fans will be animated through a community web site specially designed for this purpose. Perhaps, apart from the things created by fans, there will also be some additions of our creation but this remains to be decided at a later stage.
Finally, I wish to thank you for interesting questions and invite gamers to our game’s web site. There, you will find all the information about The Witcher.
GamingNexus would like to thank Michal for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Tom who helped coordinate the interview.