For our latest postmortem interview we talked to CD Projekt RED about what is arguably one of the greatest RPGs of all-time, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. For this interview, we used a Q&A format due to CD Projekt RED being strained for time as they continue to work on the next big expansion for The Witcher 3, Blood and Wine.
We hope you enjoy the interview and be sure to leave any questions or comments you might have at the bottom of the article. We’ll do our best to see if we can get a few more questions answered by the development team if you have any.
Questions answered by Michał Krzemiński, Senior Art Producer
Q: What did you set out to achieve with The Witcher 3? Did you want to make the best game possible? Did you want to take the series to a new, wider audience? Did you want to create a game that pushed the technical boundaries of an open world? Or all of these things? On the surface, did you fulfill that vision when the game released?
A: Short answer is, we wanted to do all of these things. Our intention was to bring the gripping storytelling the previous games were known for, and translate that to an open world experience that could be on par with benchmark games for the open world genre. Plus, I think we secretly wanted to become one of those games, too — something that would set the bar for games to come after Wild Hunt. We’re now almost a year after launch and I think we’ve done it. Fan support is gigantic and gaming critics seem to appreciate the game as well. More people have heard of Geralt than ever. It’s pretty epic for everyone, we’re very proud.
Q: Do you think the game was better received because of the inclusion of the soundtrack CD (which I still listen to in the car) and map in the standard addition? What do you think it says about the current state of gaming that such additions were so gladly received?
A: The answer to this question can be broken down to two basic things. First and foremost, I think Wild Hunt was received well because it’s a good game. We’ve spent countless hours redoing things that were already “OK” to turn them into something we thinked rocked. Simply put, no amount of extra content is going to change the reception of your game if it’s not good. However, there’s also the way you treat gamers. We’re here for the gamers and not the other way around — they give us their hard earned cash and, for that, we owe them. If you think like that, some things become almost intuitive to do.
Q: What was the thinking behind giving away smaller, free DLC packs, in addition to charging for larger expansions? Was it a genuine thank you to fans, a way to keep people from trading the game in, or just the way that you think games should be developed?
A: Free DLCs are part of the gamer-centric philosophy I talked about in the previous question. It wasn’t a way to “keep people from trading the game in” because these DLCs were available even to gamers who borrowed a copy from their friends. We feel gamers deserve this treatment for believing in us and in our game and buying it. As for the larger expansions, these required a significant amount of additional work to be completed — new characters needed to be created, new dialogues written, translated and recorded, new gameplay mechanics programmed etc. It all takes time and is a considerable investment. Bottom line is, we always said that if we ever slapped a price tag on something, gamers would have to see that they pay for something meaningful and worth their money.
Q: What is the studio culture like at CDPR? And how much hard work went into creating all of the gameplay mechanics?
A: As a studio, we always try to go the extra mile. As for our games, the general idea behind them is to touch people’s lives by the stories we tell. As for the second question, it’s kind of impossible to answer — we’ve spent three years creating and refining various aspects of the game. A lot? A helluva lot? :)
Q: The Witcher 3 was widely praised for its characters – What was the approach to writing the characters in The Witcher 3 and what, in your opinion, makes them so compelling?
A: Like with mamy things in the game, we wanted the characters to seem as real the world they inhabit. To do that, we’ve created layers upon layers of emotions, motivations and backstory. Nothing’s ever binary, nor is it black and white — it’s because humans rarely are. We take familiar archetypes and twist them, ground them in this gritty reality Geralt lives in. And when gamers see that, they see behaviours familiar at first glance that turn out very different the deeper they look. Take the Bloody Baron — he’s an abusive drunk and a brutal ruler. But once you get to know him, you start to see the motivations hidden beneath the surface, you start unearthing the complexity. And this, I think, can be applied to most of the characters in the game. Also, this is how real people function — we’re rarely good or bad, but we’re always complex.
Q: Conversely, in previous games, The Witcher’s combat has been criticised. How was The Witcher 3 approached differently? Or was the combat system in The Witcher 3 a natural evolution that worked better in this game?
A: The combat system in the game was a natural evolution of what gamers saw in The Witcher 2 — we’ve refined it based on player feedback. It’s more intuitive compared to the previous part, there’s more signs, and everything’s more fluid, with one button press translating into a swing of the sword.
Q: CDPR don’t seem scared to change what isn’t working, as evidenced by the Enhanced editions of The Witcher 1 and 2, but also stand by choices they feel have potential. For instance, the English voice cast has remained largely unchanged throughout the series. Despite not being well received in the first game, the voice acting in The Witcher 3 was critically acclaimed. How do you decide what needs to change from game to game? And how you know what to fight to keep, even if feedback is negative?
A: First off, I think our mindset was never about creating “a blockbuster franchise”, but rather delivering a game that would be meaningful to gamers. Yes, sure we wanted to create something that others would praise and that would be commercially successful, but we’re humble folk, we want to make games that gamers like, games that leave a mark and you want to return to. And gamers are essential to making that happen. It’s a closed environment: you have an idea, a vision, gamers verify that idea and show you alternative directions you might pursue; or they give you ideas and you check if they stick with the direction you want to take the game. And then you decide what to do, it’s a constant learning process. Sometimes we’re wrong and sometimes it’s worth to stick to what you believe in and prove to gamers that you can use their feedback to make things awesome instead of scraping an idea entirely.
Q: Do you regret producing promotional material which perhaps set the bar for graphical fidelity too high?
A: We’ve fought till the very end to achieve the very best visuals at launch. You have to remember that when we started developing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, new-gen consoles hadn’t been on the market. We didn’t know the specs etc., so we had to estimate a lot of things. We’ve set the bar at a certain height (aiming for the stars) and did everything to deliver that. The final outcome was presented on many trailers before the launch of the game and we’re proud of what we’ve managed to create.
Q: How faithfully do you think you’ve stuck to the source material with The Witcher? Will Geralt always be a character created by Andrzej Sapkowski, or have CDPR taken the series to places it could never go on a page?
A: Very faithfully, I think. Mr. Sapkowski is Geralt’s father and nothing will ever change that. What we created is a video game series that allows to dive into Geralt’s world more “tangibly”.
Q: If there’s one thing that you would have done differently regarding The Witcher 3’s development what would it have been? Any missing features you wish you had gotten into the game before it was released, story elements etc?
A: I think we’d deliver exactly the same game, but faster. Creating games is always a learning process and this was our first open world game, so we had to learn twice as much. With our current experience, we’d be able to do some things way faster, but that’s always theoretical. You will, however, see that experience in our future games.
Q: How will The Witcher 3 influence future CDPR titles? Will you try to continue pushing the boundaries of open world games? Will you try to continue CDPR’s ‘gamers first’ mentality with extra content and collectables?
A: We will definitely work on something even bigger and better, and it will definitely be as gamer centric as possible. Like I previously said, we’re like that, we’re here for the gamers and not the other way around.
Q: Are there still quite a few secrets to be uncovered in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt that players haven’t found yet?
A: That’s a secret! :)