AusGamers The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Developer Interview with Michal Platkow-Gilewski
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 03:51pm 24/02/14 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with CD Projekt RED's Michal Platkow-Gilewski to discuss the studio's first true foray into open-world RPG development with The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. Read on or watch for the full interview...
Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for a direct link.
Can you talk to me about… you guys are masters at RPG, but this is the first time you’ve gone open-world. Can you talk about that evolution from The Witcher 1, to 2, to 3; what you’ve learnt as RPG makers, and what has changed in terms of how you approach an RPG now that you’re going open-world?
Michal Platkow-Gilewski: Sure. So at the beginning when we started The Witcher 1, we knew that we wanted to create a mature role playing game for a mature audience -- by this I mean, people who would expect to have a believable story. At the beginning we [said] that we needed around 17 people to accomplish that, and we ended up with 100 working on The Witcher 1.
The game was cool; it was good, but in The Witcher 2, we wanted to go a step further: we wanted to have more consequences of your actions in the game, and we wanted to excel in the storytelling, because we think this is what’s important for us and where we are quite good. That was The Witcher 2, where choosing different factions [means] you can affect how the world and the gameplay could be exposed with different gameplay even, because big parts were unique and dependent on your choices.
In The Witcher 3, we came to a moment where we were experienced enough, we had our own technology which was good enough, we are in the moments when the next-gen(s) and quite powerful PC systems are on the market, and at that moment we feel that we can use the last missing part to tell the immersive stories, and this part is the open-world. Because only in an open-world we can truly enjoy the story which we are shaping. So you can go back and check what consequences your actions brought on the world, or you can just go wherever you want, and behave like a real character.
So that was the evolution. Right now, we are over 220 people in our studio. Out of those about 180 are working on a daily-basis on The Witcher, so it’s a big evolution in terms of who we are. We started 12 years ago, working on The Witcher 1, so we are all more mature as well, and I think that you will be able to feel that in the games.
AusGamers: You mentioned that having an open-world allows players to go back and see the consequences of their actions, but if you’re talking about your direct competition, something like Skyrim, or even Oblivion, the player kind of crafts their own journey. Whereas in your game, it’s Geralt’s journey, so you have a bit more of a focused narrative on the character. How have you managed to balance that aspect from the previous games where it was easier to follow that narrative path with consequence, in a game where you can do whatever you want because it’s open-world?
Michal: First of all, I’m not thinking about Skyrim and other role-playing games as a direct competitor to us, because I think that if someone loves role-playing games, [they] will enjoy both of them, and we have totally different assumptions and [philosophies] behind the game. So for us, Geralt, the main protagonist, he’s the most important; he’s crucial, because he’s defined. He’s really cool; he’s a badass, ultimate monster slayer, and we’ve always dreamed to play the role of Geralt, and around Geralt we created [a] cool story -- a non-linear one, and then we surrounded all of that with the open-world.
So that’s different from the sandbox games. So far you’ve had to choose either a story-driven game or a sandbox open-world game; we want to combine both. We want to have one and another in the one game. Of course it’s complicated, it’s demanding from every level from each of the departments in our studio -- from story writers to the quest design/level design, and tech of course, as well (engine guys) -- so it’s quite complicated; it’s a challenge; it’s demanding, but it’s something that we have always dreamed to do, to tell the truly immersive story.
AusGamers: How have you guys managed… it’s kind of an evolution of that question, but emergent gameplay as far as open-world is concerned is quite important. You get it in GTA as much as you get it in a game like Skyrim or other open-world games. Obviously we saw examples of coming across the village and hunting the monster, or even just coming around a corner and you see a monster there, and they’re not bosses, they just live in the world.
What else beyond the monsters and quests that you find, have you done to build on that emergent play, to keep players, every 10 metres or so, finding something important happening?
Michal: First we have a main story -- I’m not using the word “storyline” because this is not linear -- and you can visit several places in the world and be involved in some adventures and quests, and it will push the story forward. Wherever you’re doing something -- and sometimes you can not do anything -- it will push the story.
So we have 50 hours of these main quests, then we have 50 hours of the side quests, then we have monster hunting, then we have something which we are calling points-of-interest -- not a super cool and original name, but this is what it is.
So each time you are somewhere in the world, and you look around, you will find at least one point worth visiting: some kind of ruins, or a shipwreck, or a strange-looking mountain, and these things will attract your attention, and you will be willing to go and explore it, and some kind of adventure will await you there -- either loot, or a monster, or something different.
AusGamers: Character progression is also another major part of RPGs and you’ve got a really long lineage with Geralt, so we need to assume that when we’re getting into The Witcher 3, which is the end of his journey as far as you guys are concerned… he’s been around for a while and he’s already a very powerful character. Can you talk about character progression in the game, and how you’re approaching that? I feel like when you start the game, you’re going to have to be pretty powerful to begin with, but then what is the drive to make you even more powerful?
Michal: Being powerful is relative, because even Geralt, during his journeys he was facing opponents that were a real threat to him, he had to prepare himself before the fight. Either it was monsters, sometimes even with the human opponents. So yes, you will be powerful. Fighting with two or three enemies shouldn’t be a problem for you, but there may be a situation which would be too tough for you at the beginning.
We don’t have level-scaling in the game, so there will be regions with more powerful monsters or enemies, and you have to be prepared to fight there. Of course, even at the beginning you could kill almost every monster, but it may be really hard for inexperienced gamers. So you either have to gather more knowledge of the monsters, you have to prepare before the fight by using alchemy, or looking for a more powerful weapon, or you can just progress a little bit and come back to that moment later on.
AusGamers: Do you physically level up? Is there an XP system?
Michal: Yeah, so you are levelling up, and you are investing the points in several trees of skills -- either alchemy or science, or minor magic, or sword mastery.
AusGamers: Something that I find a lot of games of this nature tend to get wrong is economy. Early in the game, it takes a while to earn a certain amount of money, but often when you get to the end of the game, you’re so rich that money doesn’t matter anymore. Can you guys talk about how you’ve approached the economy, and what money actually means in the game?
Michal: Yeah, so it’s always tricky with economy, because you have to aim for the average gamer, which will not use or exploit a system just to get super rich. In theory, in The Witcher, you could go to a fisherman’s village, buy the fish which are relatively cheap over there, then go into the mountains and sell the fish to get some cash. You can spend a lot of time doing that, but the question is: what’s the point in that?
So we wanted to balance the economy and the progress of the character in order to help you and not distract you to do something different. On the other hand, there will be, for example, quite powerful items which you can craft; you can’t buy them, you have to craft them. So economy actually doesn’t affect you here, because you have to travel to a given place, kill a monster, skin it, then use his hide to create the armour, and the economy doesn’t play any role here.
AusGamers: So what about the world itself, in terms of… because you’ve got monsters, but I saw deer running around and stuff like that; we saw the whale in the water. What sort of ecology is there in terms of wildlife and things like that? Are they different region to region? Does the weather affect how they work, and do they have an impact on things like crafting and the economy as well?
Michal: They might have an impact, but what’s the most important for us is that when we design the world -- which is huge, if you guys played The Witcher 2, our world is 35 times bigger than the world of The Witcher 2; so it’s huge -- and we wanted to have it as diversified as possible. So you will have different regions with different inspirations, like Skellige Islands which are inspired more by Nordic and Celtic mythology. We have No Man’s Land which are a more dark swampy place ravaged by war. The Moot is a little bit like from The Brothers Grimm tales, so you can expect to have some deadly and really bad monsters over there, and you have Novigrad, which is a metropolis, the closest connection you might have is medieval Amsterdam; a port city.
Depending on where you are, the wildlife will change as well, and you can use this wildlife somehow. It’s not crucial -- it’s not the most important -- because you’re not a deer hunter, you’re a monster hunter, so you will get the most from killing the monsters.
AusGamers: In The Witcher 2, you had some subterranean places to explore, and obviously now you’ve got this open-world, and we’ve only really seen people out in the exterior. Are there a lot of interiors and underground places? Can you talk about interiors versus exterior in terms of playtime -- how much time people can expect?
Michal: I don’t know if anyone has already measured the ratio between interior and exterior. The world is huge outside, but it’s big inside as well. You will be in a lot of really good-looking places which are either underground or just the interior of a big castle -- especially when we are talking about Novigrad, a metropolitan city, there will be a lot of action in the interiors as well.
I don’t have a clue right now what will be the proportion. We’ll see that later on.
AusGamers: But there will be a lot of interiors?
Michal: Yeah. Sure, because it’s cool.
AusGamers: You mentioned that the monsters we came across in the presentation weren’t bosses. Will there be bosses?
Michal: No. We don’t believe in something like a boss. There will be monsters which are just hard to kill, and you have to be really prepared to kill it, and it’s wise to gather some knowledge before you confront it, but there are just more and less powerful monsters, and each of these monsters you will be able to find again several times in the game.
AusGamers: Now you’re kind of co-developing this for PC and the next-gen systems, is there a lead platform, or are you trying to make it pretty much the same across the board? Each system obviously brings its own kind of uniqueness to power and usability, with Kinect and that sort of stuff with Xbox One. Are you guys taking advantage of any of that, or not talking about that at the moment?
Michal: First of all, I think we are in the sweet-spot when all of these platforms are quite similar, so we don’t have to make a compromise in terms of quality; we go just nuts with creating what we can create. But of course we would like to use the platform-specific options to achieve the best results possible, but not forsaking the immersion to the game-world. So if there will be something that makes sense to implement, and makes the experience even better, we will not be afraid to use that. But if it’s something stupid, implementing that only to have it and list that on the back of the box, it’s just not our style, so we won’t do that.
AusGamers: Will you guys be doing anything to reward players of the series before, going into 3 and new platforms. You mentioned earlier that it’s the first time you’ll be on a PlayStation platform for example, so you have to assume that anyone who’s playing it has probably never played The Witcher before. But for people that are diehard Witcher fans and have played the series through, will there be rewards for them in any way?
Michal: How we design the game is, of course, to smoothly introduce everyone new to the franchise, so they shouldn’t have any problem to dive into the game straight from the beginning. It will be easier, both in terms of gameplay and story to dive into, but from the other hand, there’s a lot for fans of the franchise -- gamers who enjoy The Witcher 1 and The Witcher 2. We are preparing some stuff from them, so they will never be bored, because the game is easy to learn and hard to master, so at the beginning they may have an edge and be better than the usual gamers, and we will try… maybe not even try, because we are doing that: we want to wink an eye to all of those veterans by introducing some side-stories which have more meaning, or a different meaning for those who are experienced already.
Maybe there will be a character which was already in previous games, and if you know the background, you will understand more, or in a different way, what he is doing. But as well, we plan to have the possibility to use a save-game from the previous game, and those saves will have an influence on what’s going on in the world. It’s not a huge influence, but it’s significant enough to give you fun.
AusGamers: You guys are also notorious for bucking the trend and making your games quite adult; very mature. You treat them like the literature that they’re based on. Can we expect the same thing here with things like nudity and stuff like that?
Michal: There will be nudity, yes. But how we approach that: we create what we think is real, as far as fantasy games can be real. So if there is a possibility in the story to have romance, it makes no sense to skip it because there may be nudity in that, so we’re just not afraid of that. But on the other hand, we know that we can just overdose with this, because it’s not a game about sex, it’s just like real-life.
Michal: Yeah. So if it makes sense; if it’s complimentary to the story, of course we will not be afraid to use that.
AusGamers: You also mentioned that you guys have partnered with Dark Horse to bring out a series of comics. Will the comics tie into The Witcher 3, or is it kind of exterior/peripheral stories?
Michal: We treat it as an expansion of the Universe of Geralt… or an extension of the Universe. So it’s not connected with the plot from The Witcher 3, and neither from The Witcher 2, it’s something next to it. The same goes when we are creating the boardgame, called The Witcher Adventure Game, with Fantasy Flight Games, that will also be hooked in the world, but not directly connected to the story of The Witcher 3.
So if someone wants to enjoy the world and have fun and maybe [find] some new information about it, you can enjoy both the comic book or the boardgame.
AusGamers: Now finally, this one’s more of a philosophical question: you guys have mentioned many times that this is the last journey of Geralt from CDP, and obviously you’re working on another game at the moment as well. Was there any particular reason that you decided to end it at 3? Was three a nice number, a trilogy type of thing, or is it just time for CDP to start exploring other universes?
Michal: We believe that every good story should have a beginning and an end, and if you would like to continue something, and continue, and continue, it makes the story a little bit not so believable. So we said this is the moment where we should do something big; something epic, and there is no epicness without the end.
I know a few freaks who believe in numbers and all of that stuff, but I did not hear that this is the reason behind the number 3. Maybe it’s just 12 years of doing that as well.
AusGamers: You can divide 12 by 3 if you want to [laughs]. Anyway, thank you so much for you time today. Thanks for coming out to Australia, and again, I can’t wait to see the game when it comes out later in the year.
Michal: Thank you.
AusGamers: Cheers. Thank you.