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AusGamers Developer Interview with Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, Game Director for The Witcher 3
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 03:31pm 04/07/14 | Comments
AusGamers sat down with The Witcher 3 game director Konrad Tomaszkiewicz to talk about what separates this Witcher entry from previous games, and how its stands out in the open-world crowd in gaming. Read on for what he had to say...

AusGamers: The Witcher 3 is obviously very quest-based -- jumping from quest to quest -- so is character progression still primarily about acquiring more gear more than character skills and attributes?

Konrad Tomaszkiewicz: Actually, we’ve changed approach a little. We still of course don’t have any auto balance, but we’ve got… if you remember the Gothic games, we’ve got a little bit of a Gothic approach. We’ve got zones which have [their] own difficulty levels, and in the zones we’ve got very strong monsters, where you can find some cool stuff if you defeat them, but they are really, really strong. And for most of these monsters, we’ve got monster hunting quests, which are starting from the investigation then you’re learning stuff about the monster, you’re preparing special stuff -- you saw the werewolf in the demo.

Of course for the demo purpose, it was quite weak, because we’ve only got five-minutes, but normally he is really hard to defeat, and he’s got regeneration, and in the half of the combat that he is morphed, he is bigger and stronger and he can summon wolves. If you’ve got the knowledge about this werewolf -- if you’ve got the wisdom in the books, and you’ve been fighting the monsters from the family of the werewolf -- you can, for example, do the bump which when you hit the werewolf, he will get pain and the regeneration will stop, and you’ve got a window to defeat him; because otherwise, regeneration is going quite fast.

If you take the trophy from him, and take it to the quest giver that will give you a reward and you can negotiate about money. It’s like in the books, where every time Geralt has some work to do with the monsters, usually he wants to steal from him, or use him to do this, and the same is in the game.

AusGamers: So it’s quite a different approach, gathering the information that leads you up to being able to defeat the monster. Obviously this is much more open-world now, and like you said you’ve got the different zones, so I wanted to know once you go through a zone and kind of conquer it, does it have playability afterward? Are you going to come back to many zones?

Konrad: The monsters are there for that purpose, that you can always barter and try to defeat them. Because probably, toward the end of the game it will be hard to defeat them. Also, you’ve got many, many small encounters in the world, each based on small stories, and every story is quite interesting. We’ve really got a lot of them, and we wanted to make the world living; we want to give you the faith that these characters are really in the world and they have their goals to do, and you can hunt for them or not. It’s more story-driven, not generic quests like in other games.

The other side is that because this is open-world and it’s huge, we couldn’t do the approach to the story like it was in the first and the second Witcher. Previously we had acts: prologue, first act, second act, and so on. Right now, we start of with the prologue, which is quite an independent story; it’s got an obligatory tutorial, where it’s mostly putting you in the Witcher world and setting you up for the Witcher and so on -- you don’t need to know the previous games to play it, and you’ll understand everything. Then we’ve got three main lands, No Man’s Land, and Novigrad, and the Skellige Islands, and telling a story like this, every land has got its own story, and inside is information you need to gather to push your main story forward.

You don’t need to do everything there, but if you do, the shape of this land will change. You can, for example, influence the choosing of the king in one of these lands, and depending on who you choose, the land will look different later. Of course, we also have the small choices like in the previous games, which have very unexpected consequences later -- a lot later. And you’ve got the flashbacks, which tell you that you’ve done this before, and that’s why you’re in that situation right now.

AusGamers: We saw a little bit of the combat in the demo, and that’s obviously changed a little bit going forward. There were criticisms that the combat was a little too static, and you guys have made it much more fluid. Can you tell me a little bit about how you approached the combat?

Konrad: Of course. The first thing is that we listened for our fans’ feedback, and we knew that the combat was problematic. So we found out which areas were problematic, and first of all, it was that the combat in The Witcher 2 wasn’t sensitive and responsive enough, the second thing was that the targeting wasn’t working very well, so these were the first things that we focused on. In The Witcher 2, the animations of attacks were quite long, and that’s why you couldn’t break them in the middle and dodge for example, so the responsive[ness] wasn’t good. Because you want to dodge; you see that guy would hit you, you’d just finish your current attack while getting hit, and get frustrated.

Right now we’ve got very short animations for attacks, they’re like 0.2 seconds probably, or less even, and we build up these sequences from small attacks. Every time you press a button, you’ve got an immediate response from the game, and you can dodge and do everything you want.

The other thing we repaired is the targeting. Right now, you target the guy who you want to target and it works very well. We added the counter attacks which you probably saw, and sometimes you can disarm guys while you counter-attack. We added better signs (The Witcher’s spellcasting), right now we’ve got five signs, and every sign has got a second aspect you can unlock in the character development, and those signs are really needed to fight the monsters and can be used in a very tactical way.

For example, you saw the fight with the Griffin, and if you don’t have a crossbow with you, and you cannot take him down to the ground -- and he’s really dangerous when he’s flying; I know that it didn’t look like this in the presentation because we’ve got five minutes, but in the game the balance is different; he’s really hard and if he hits you from the air, you are almost dead -- so if you unlock the second aspect of the Quen sign, you can hold the shield, and if he hits the shield, he will go down and you’ve got a window to hit him.

AusGamers: How do you unlock those second aspects?

Konrad: Actually, it’s part of character development. You’re earning experience points and getting levels in the game and points, and when you get these points, you can get the skills. What is interesting -- and this is a change from The Witcher 2 -- is that now we don’t have static character development, but we’ve got slots in the DNA. You can put the skills in the order you want to, and proper combinations of these skills give you boosts to the combat. Depending on how you want to build your character, you can reset the build and do it again if you want.

For people that are more casual we’ve got auto-levelling if they want, and it’s about being one of the three specialisations of character development -- sword specialisation, magic specialisation and alchemic specialisation. Of course, we approach the alchemy a different way too. I don’t know how you play, but when I’m playing, I’ve always got a bunch of elixirs and bombs and everything in my inventory, because there will always be a better time to use it, but I never use it.

So we had a really long think about what to do with this, because we put a lot of work into alchemy, and people don’t use it. Then once, I woke up with the idea -- which I shared with our team, and they liked it very much -- that what if the elixirs and bombs were infinite? But how do we] do it?

We chose this path, and we’ve done it this way that the elixirs and bombs are used in a fight, but when you go and rest at a fireplace, they are immediately refuelled. That’s why we don’t need to be worried that you don’t have the elixirs, or don’t have to bring another herbs and finally kill the monster. No, you can use it; you can play with it; it’s for you; and you’re of course gathering the herbs and other ingredients, but it’s for something else.

We’ve done the alchemy a little like the character development, where you can upgrade every potion -- every potion has three levels, and you’re gathering these herbs and other unique ingredients to upgrade them.

AusGamers: This genre is a pretty competitive space at the moment, and a lot of that is due to the success that the first Witchers have had. Now you’ve got an open-world, which is responding to a lot of demands you’ve had. Is there any feature that you have that you feel really sets this game apart compared to everything else?

One of the things I noticed is that obviously the storytelling is really key, but is there anything that you personally think stands out?

Konrad: For me, there’s always -- because I am an old RPG player, I played adventure games on the Atari and so on -- and for me, the combination of the story and the gameplay is the most important. Because if the game has an immersive story, the game can trick you that this is happening now and you feel that you’re making real choices and there are emotions that impact other people.

This is the most important thing in a game, and I think that we achieve it; it’s the most important for me. And of course there’s the horse combat! But we didn’t show it in the demo.

AusGamers: I saw that in the trailer, is that just for specific sequences?

Konrad: No, you can do it whenever you want. You can attack with a sword, shoot a crossbow, throw bombs; you can even fight another horseman.

AusGamers: Ok, thank you very much Konrad, thank you for your time today.

Konrad: Thank you, it was a pleasure to meet you.

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