The Witcher Q&A - Making a Fantasy Role-Playing Game for Grown-Ups

Chief designer Michal Madej discusses this upcoming fantasy role-playing game about a morally ambiguous hero.

Slaying monsters is pretty straightforward in a lot of role-playing games. You play as the good guy, and the monsters are usually completely evil. That's certainly not the case in The Witcher. In this upcoming single-player role-playing game based on the works of Polish fantasy novelist Andrzej Sapkowski, you'll play as the antihero Geralt of Rivia, a magically mutated assassin trained from birth to hunt down and slay monsters in a medieval fantasy world where there are no black-and-white decisions. Polish developer CD Projekt hopes to capture the moral ambiguity of Geralt and his world in the game, which will have you making a myriad of tough decisions that will affect the story. To learn more about the game, which is due out in September, we turned to Michał Madej, chief designer of The Witcher.

Meet Geralt of Rivia, professional monster slayer, pictured with a monster that needs to be slain. Not pictured: slaying.

GameSpot: Aside from the March update and last year's Leipzig games convention, we haven't seen The Witcher for almost two years. Can you give us an update on where the game's currently at in development, and have there been any major changes in the past year?

Michał Madej: We learned a few lessons about development in the last two or three years. We have learned from our mistakes, but now CD Projekt Red is running like a well-oiled machine; everything goes according to the plan. We gained a lot of experience, and I can say that the game is finally what we wanted it to be.

The Witcher has essentially reached the beta phase, and everything is going well in terms of production. We have tight development schedules, and quality tests are being done both by us and by Atari's quality assurance team. We're now polishing everything and are focused on testing, testing again, and more tests.

GS: This is a very mature role-playing game, and it deals with a lot of adult themes. This is partly because it's based on a popular Polish fantasy series, but how have you approached this in the game?

MM: First of all, we established that we want to treat gamers seriously. We don't want to sell them a cheap story about some great hero saving the world. When we made this decision we didn't realize how serious a step it was going to be. We had to work out every detail that would make our story "mature." In his books, Andrzej Sapkowski never avoided harsh topics like violence or racism. We decided not to change his style, and to make The Witcher a more mature game. We want to get the attention of gamers who are interested in a deep story and the consequences that come along with making tough decisions throughout the game.

GS: How open-ended is the world in The Witcher? Will players be able to go off and explore anywhere you want at any time, or will you tightly restrict where players will go?

CD Projekt licensed BioWare's Aurora engine, which powered Neverwinter Nights, and made it look a lot better.

MM: As for the gameworld, after some discussion, we came to the conclusion that an entirely free world, as seen in games like Oblivion, wouldn't exactly suit our plans for the game. Hence our decision to somewhat limit the player's freedom, naturally in exchange for huge, original, and intriguing locations full of interesting non-player characters.

Moreover, if you look at some of the games known for their entirely free worlds, you'll find that the dynamic and smooth advancement of the plotline is sometimes difficult. That's why we've focused on creating a world with some limitations to freedom, but with huge locations, where the player will always discover something new to do or see.

A large, free-roaming world is great for massively multiplayer online games, but in single-player RPGs it's better to do something to keep players interested all the time with changes in the story, locations full of interesting NPCs and events, and so on. But, I want to say it once more: The world players will enter in The Witcher is big enough that they'll be able to spend many hours just exploring.

Making Choices with Consequences

GS: One of the game's most intriguing aspects is that it will give players lots of hard choices that have short- and long-term consequences. Can you give us a new example of how this choice system comes into play in the game? How challenging is it to create all the possible story outcomes?

As yourself one question: Do you feel lucky, monstrous creature-thing?

MM: You can't really make a good RPG without giving players the ability to make choices. The Witcher is no exception. One of our original goals for the game was to provide the player with great liberty of decision, and to ensure the player's choices would have a significant impact on the plot. The world of The Witcher is one where there is no clear distinction between good and evil, so the player must occasionally make very difficult decisions. One of the newer features we've implemented is a flashback system that conveys to the players some of the decisions he's made to trigger recent plot events. It's proven to be a great way to show players the impact of their actions.

I'd really rather not provide any new examples, as flashbacks are generally very important to the plot and we don't want to say too much about the story; we want players to make these decisions themselves. I can assure you that you'll find many opportunities to make meaningful decisions and see the consequences in The Witcher.

GS: Just how flexible is the story? Are there still the multiple endings? How much replayability is there? Can you have dramatically different experiences if you play through the game and make different choices?

MM: The Witcher has three separate endings, and the ending you see will be tied to the choices made in the game. Differences between the alternate endings are huge and concern many aspects of the gameworld. The player will have to make a lot of tough choices that will put the lives of friends and foes in danger; and in the end, the player's allegiances and decisions will determine more than just Geralt's destiny.

In a single play-through, it's only possible to learn about 60 percent of Geralt's available skills, giving players the opportunity to enjoy the game in a different way in subsequent adventures. The differences in character "builds"--the different ways you can customize your character--are very visible. But this is just an additional feature. Replayability, above all else, is based on the possibility of making different choices each time.

GS: The Aurora Engine that you licensed from BioWare barely looks recognizable in The Witcher. It looks pretty amazing. How much work did you put into the engine, and what are the enhancements that you've made?

MM: Step by step, we have modified over 70 percent of the engine, mainly on the rendering side (which makes use of DirectX 9), game mechanics (combat, character development, and so on), as well as the toolset, which we call D'jinni. The graphics engine now matches the level of modern first-person shooter games--we have all of the state-of-the-art technologies such as pixel shaders and normal mapping.

We had to make modifications to the engine in order to implement real-time combat and the specific characteristics of the Witcher. The D'jinni toolset is a brand-new tool that could be the subject of an entire interview. 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's more, the implemented changes can be observed in real time while actually playing the game. This really is a cool tool.

After years of development, The Witcher finally ships this September.

GS: What sort of system requirements are you looking at to run the game smoothly?

MM: The hardware requirements will be announced very soon, but I can already say that The Witcher's hardware demands are reasonable. In order to fully appreciate the game's visual potential, however, higher-end equipment will be necessary. Such is the inevitable compromise, in order to have a product both accessible to the average player and one taking advantage of brand-new computer technology.

GS: Finally, is there anything that you'd like to add about The Witcher?

MM: We will have some new gameplay videos very soon to show everyone how the game is progressing and how it actually looks in motion. Interviews and screenshots are great, I know, but there's nothing like seeing the game in motion.

GS: Thank you, Michał.

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Discussion

151 comments
galaxer99
galaxer99

Take a look at some of the new videos and screenshots posted on various gaming sites. They definitely don't look *bad*. The two screenshots here look decent enough for heaven's sake. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the game, I'll wait for a few review though.

torresmatt
torresmatt

YeaHrzOO, All of us m8's can't read the books because there is only one that's even been translated into English, and that's the Last Wish and it's in UK only. But! If any of you can read Spanish, they have been translated and published in Spain. I've read through a little bit of the first book and it seems pretty good.

timma25
timma25

Will you lead one person or parties of people?

M4spingon
M4spingon

Yes it is, like Fallout, BG, P:T, NWN. Now go away.

sputnjik
sputnjik

is it point 'n' click ? 'cause if it is I'm not gonna play

GraveDiggerPL
GraveDiggerPL

Some ignorant said: "This engine sux ass"... Michal Madej said: "Step by step, we have modified over 70 percent of the engine..."

M4spingon
M4spingon

Those clips are one year old, so don't whine about graphics and animations

seba1984
seba1984

Ok guys here are some clips from E3 (YouTube links so it's low res). I'll translate some of the important stuff the guy is saying: 1st clip: http://youtube.com/watch?v=9aRlxt424v4 basically weather effects, water and day/night cicle, all of this will be ONLY calculated by your vid card (NOT the main processor which is important for physics). The weather also affects NPCs (they hide when it's raining), also some monsters come out in the rain. Then he shows the effects of a mixture and alcohol which can enchance your interaction with NPCs. If you get too drunk you fall asleep and you can get robbed. 2nd clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WR4g30RX0M Kaer Morhen the Witchers' stronghold was attacked. There is some tactics involved it's not just hack and slash. You can dodge hits. There are 3 styles to develop, strong against strong enemies , fast for running away enemies, and group for dealing with groups. There are some combos ( you have to click in a special manner to do a whole combo). Archers usually use higher ground in the game. You have the ability to block arrow shots, beacause of inhuman reflex. (Then he uses some magic, but there is nothing special there). You can use a charge attack (like on one of the bowman). In this fight you can not defeat the boss alone, your friend will help you when he finnishes the smaller guys , you stone the boss with a special magic sign (Ard sign) and you friend Berenger finishes him off. 3rd clip: (about the plot, I'll get in to details cause you know from the interview whats the basic concept) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-JHa-HQmb4 If you relaese the prisoner, he will give you information about the one behind the attack. It's a naive choice. Later in the game your girl dies cause the location of your castle is no longer a secret, but you can rescue your friend Berenger from the one behind the attack. You can't just save choose 1 way ,see the outcome and load the save cause the outcome of your choice appears much later in the game (IMO it's a great idea) The second choice is to get the other witchers to advise you. The oldest Vezemir wants to give the risoner the serum of truth (it's dangerous and the effects of the serum on humans are unknown), Lambert wants to use torture and Berenger wants to kill him. You choose to kill the prisoner. The longterm effect is that Berenger dies from the hands of the guy that ordered the attack (later in the game) but your girl lives. It's worthwhile to play The Witcher 2 or even 3 times because of the longterm effects of your decisions. Well it's not an exact translation but i got most of it explained for you guys.

SMGrawks
SMGrawks

This is the best game I'VE EVER PLAYED.

YeaHrzOO
YeaHrzOO

all U m8s should read novels about The Witcher coz it will be very hard 4 U 2 undestand many things included in game pozdro dla twórców :D

yuucom
yuucom

grey-flood I have to agree :|. This engine sux ass.

grey-flood
grey-flood

Aurora will destroy it :cry: it will be filled with bugs like NW2 :(

ender140
ender140

YES! maybe it would be another great game from Poland, after painkiller, chrome and call of juarez!:D Oczywiscie pisze to chlopiec z Polski;D

haselyn
haselyn

This looks very promising! Hopefully it will come through on things mentioned here. Especially like the ideas of the flashbacks if properly implemented.

football_legend
football_legend

Damn...this looks better than first glance which i thought was Oblivion rip-off.

luqash
luqash

will kicks ass other rpg games...intro to this game is prepared by Baginski , man who was nominated to oscar

ldonyo
ldonyo

I'm still waiting for an English translation of the novels the game is based upon. I think that reading them would enhance the experience of playing the game. It might also help provide information on how things are likely to work within the game, as well.

YoZbaNaToR
YoZbaNaToR

Interesting. I can't wait to see the game in motion ;)

myprecious27
myprecious27

How can anyone evaluate the game without playing it first?:) Let's wait till September... I'm glad it isn't supposed to be oblivion-like:)

ElmorePOW
ElmorePOW

I really, really love this game's visuals.

Appolo05
Appolo05

the screenshots look a lot better, than the 1st once appeared. Now this looks stunning :P

death5ter
death5ter

hmmm... looks impressive, keep on going...

conkertheduke88
conkertheduke88

no more point in click games... if this is one... i will have big doubts on PC games in the future

KandyKornMan
KandyKornMan

this looks like it could be all that oblivion wasnt which isnt much but anyone who played oblivion no what the problems were.if it is optimized and isnt to strict on the hardware needs it should be good.ive had enough of oblivion already.need a rpg with more blood and sex in it like this game the witcher perhaps?

seba1984
seba1984

acetken wrote: "Eastern European releases are notorious for releasing about 6 months too early and being full of bugs and oversights. Oh, and horrible voice acting. " sorry can't disagree more there were quite a few great games with good voice acting , and polished, here are a few examples: MAFIA - (Czech company pterodon i think) Vietcong + it's add on - (same company) recently S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Ukrainian game (from what i've checked) Hidden & Dangerous (sorry haven't played that myself but check the ratings) also Czech BUT the geographical origin doesn't have an impact, the company does (surely there are crappy and excellent developers in every country), so i don't see your point. Nevertheless if it captures the climate of the books it should be awesome. I recommend everyone interested in the game to read at least some of the stories or part of the saga. It's been released in English and it's not the kind of fairy-tale fantasy. I think/hope some of the climate (i.e. maturity) could be similar to the fallout series ( and i don't mean post nuclear :D ). and yeah I'm polish :)

Sunrie
Sunrie

I agree, this does look promising. I certainly hope it delivers what it is promising. This could set a new standard.

vidiot923
vidiot923

This looks like a promising title. I doubt my computer will be powerful enough toplay it on though, so I hope they release it on the 360, yes just like Oblivion.

Shas_La_Kais
Shas_La_Kais

[quote]MM: As for the gameworld, after some discussion, we came to the conclusion that an entirely free world, as seen in games like Oblivion, wouldn't exactly suit our plans for the game. Hence our decision to somewhat limit the player's freedom, naturally in exchange for huge, original, and intriguing locations full of interesting non-player characters.[/quote] DO NOT COMPARE WITH OBLIVION!

champhf
champhf

ok now this looks promising will keep a lookout for this game now.

cyborg100000
cyborg100000

I hope the AI isn't too smart like oblivion lol, they seemed to work out your every move like they were one step ahead of you and enemies interacted with each other too well. I hope the combat system is more advanced in this one. Like age of conan will be.

YarpenTheReaper
YarpenTheReaper

Oblivion seems to be a bit shallow in comparison to The Witcher:)

zellwwf
zellwwf

I think a war will thrive between Oblivion & The Witcher! We will see who shall win!

acarrillo
acarrillo

i think a good title! i like to see in PS3 on PC

TehEliteElite
TehEliteElite

"For me the most important things in games is story and atmosphere" I couldn't agree more. This looks very promising.

YarpenTheReaper
YarpenTheReaper

"Hmm what I really worried about is the fighting system. This will be pretty difficult to create a proper fights system for The Witcher." Fights are very good, i've checked it myself:)

eXtreme86
eXtreme86

The Witcher is a coming out well game in this year and I pin one's faith on the game. For me the most important things in games is story and atmosphere (for example: Planescape Torment, Deus Ex, Legacy of Kain series), and I hope both this things will be on a high level. Graphics on screenshoots looks very well for now but i want see how the game is look in action so I hope soon we will see a new gameplay movie from game. Pozdrowka dla polaków na GameSpot :)

yuucom
yuucom

Hmm what I really worried about is the fighting system. This will be pretty difficult to create a proper fights system for The Witcher.

system3142
system3142

Choices haven't impressed me in the past, and they're still as unlikely to do so in the future. In the end it all really boils down to how the RPG system is implemented, and how addictive it is to pick up that sword and start thrashing away... You can't design consequences that are so far flung out that they change the entire course of the game. Everything's in a predetermined path anyway, so you know you'll end up and on or two odd points here or there before you face the same final boss. Sucks. But that's videogames for you, take it or leave it.

knux15
knux15

fionn I think what racer was talking about was the whole aspect of the story being of mature content. Or in better terms "darker", more adult content. It has been a long time since a company has tried to do a game like this and it should be interesting to see how it plays out. I personally am wondering if we will see the first AO to hit mainstream markets in the last 3 to 4 years. I doubt it as AO is disallowed in some states to be on market shelves but it definitely would be a nice addition to put into my AO collection if it were. (Only have the 7 games that ever hit shelves and 29 more from Japan over the internet)

Robertwelsh2
Robertwelsh2

The more dark, depressing, realistic, and action packed, the game play the better I say. It's kind of like real life (In a sense since in the game there are monsters and fantasy creatures). I mean it's realistic because in REAL LIFE, in the WORLD right and wrong dicisions may make a difference, but if you look real close our planet is a very dark place with a lot of problems. The Witcher is kind of like... a mirror image of our society. See what I mean?

prowler666
prowler666

looks a little outdated to me... but i know, it's the gameplay that makes the game. they are gonna have to make one hell of a good game, if they wan't me to buy it, cos there' so many good games goming out in 2007.

racerx737
racerx737

this does sounds like Fable, just a lot more mature and not so focused on good/evil. I do think Fable had its mature elements, but not on this level. And I loved Fable so if this comes out on 360 (which I dont think they made any mention of), I'll look at buying it, depending on how it turns out obviously.

fionndruinne
fionndruinne

Fable wasn't immature, it was a bit goofy. There can be a difference. Personally I think when developers make "moral ambiguity" or any similar less common feature such a big issue in development, things turn out being predictable and staid. I think Fable succeeds much more effortlessly, because its focus is less on that and more on just making as good a game as possible. I think I'll wait for Fable 2 (and work on gettin' a 360)

SMGrawks
SMGrawks

ShadowRun producers: But it's not a MMORPG! And they don't have gay Chinese elves with 'tribal' tattoos. It'll never smell. I mean sell. *snort*

Mkherkzen
Mkherkzen

I've read the novels by Mr. Sapkowski and all I can say is that if CD Projekt Red manages to transfer the atmosphere of the books into the game we will have a VERY mature title. Just can't wait :D

M4spingon
M4spingon

Fable was mature? It was more childish then Oblivion, I hope The Witcher will be nothing like this.

uberjannie
uberjannie

GeigerdolylWodd : if you followed games and stopped talking about what you want.. you would actually see in an interview here on gamespot that in fable 2, you can play a female.