Summary: We've decided to find out a little more about one of the best games and possibly the best RPG we saw this year at E3: The Witcher. Jakub emailed his Polish brothers out in Poland and came up with this interview.
CDProjekt: First of all, the version we presented this year was a much more advanced one. Last year the game had only been in development for 8 months, now the production time sums up to 20 months. During this year we’ve introduced all major engine modifications. It is now capable of presenting most up-to-date graphic effects. The changes we’ve introduced are so numerous that our work consisted in actually rewriting the entire renderer anew. And that is what allows us to show realistic, reflecting water or dynamic soft and ‘edgeless’ shadows. Also the day and night system has been completed, allowing us to present natural lighting and shading changes and the Sun/Moon migration over the horizon. Moreover, the weather change system has been introduced with its unbelievably realistic rain and storms. All these interweave to create beautifully dynamic and real-life surroundings for the game’s storyline.
Apart form graphic modifications, much progress has been made in virtually every aspect of the game. Take the combat system… in the first version it brought up much controversy. That is why, thanks to opinions we collected during previous presentations, we’ve decided to redesign it. It is still very rich and realistic, yet at the same time, it sure gained more intuitiveness and clarity. It bases on six basic combat styles (three for the silver sword and three for the steel one) the player will get the chance to develop during the game.
Finally, the inner structure of the company changed a lot. The number of staff increased much within last 12 months, therefore, the 2004 E3’s group of 16 now comprises a strength of 42 specialists… And its is likely to gain a few more.
FiringSquad: The opening theme of your presentation was "RPG Re-defined". What do you mean by that, and how can you back such a bold statement up?
CDProjekt: We believe the time has come to really think about what an RPG game should look like. Which elements should it consist of, and which of them are most vital. Lately, the technical progress has exceeded all the borders, we’re able to create photorealistic graphics, but still, the attitude towards RPGs does not change. Most of developers tend to copy the clichés and fear the changes.
That is why, we decided to change the attitude. We sort of … ‘factorized’ the genre, put it into pieces. Next, we scrutinized and thought over all the aspects and tried to pick out the most important RPG features. Finally, it was our task to put them together the best way we could think of, using the latest development techniques and available technology. We’re quite aware that not all RPG fans will accept our redefinition, but that’s mostly because they’ve gotten used to clichés and certain mechanisms.
And here are the results of our considerations. The crucial elements of the game should be: the storyline, combat system, freedom and non-linearity, character equipping and development. At the same time, all the aforementioned issues should be most intuitive and easy-to-use for the gamers. We have tried to match the structure of the game according to the rules specified above, so to sum up:
CDProjekt: First of all, we agreed that the storyline should be the spine, the basis of any RPG. Therefore, we’ve tried various ways of introducing this idea into being: we have placed the game in a rich, intriguing and believable world known from a series of 7 fantasy novels. This allowed us to provide background and depth unlike all that’s been seen in computer games. Another thing we achieved was creating a tale, a consistent story whose first draft was put together in the preproduction phase over 3 years ago. Since then the storyline has been constantly developed and updated. Mr. Sapkowski – the author of the Witcher saga has been providing us with crucial information and consulting the plot creation process. The richness and depth of the world required us to strongly modify the Aurora Engine, thus a new cut-scene editor allowing us to cut and ‘glue’ the story in a film-like manner, or a unique mimics system letting us reflect the richness of characters’ gestures and emotions.
Next there’s combat. Here we’ve introduced a unique system based on medieval fencing arts and techniques enhanced by magic. It comprises a total of over 200 animations interweaving into fluent combat sequences. What is more, it is a real-time-based system allowing the player to use numerous upgrades and power-ups and customizing the combat manner to one’s likes and needs.
Another important aspects of gameplay are freedom and non-linearity. And this is something we’re quite bent on. We’re most annoyed by the restrictions imposed by the game designers, that is why, we’re strongly trying to avoid them in our work. That is why The Witcher has no artificial restrictions, one can for example attack any character. You want to betray and attack your friend… be our guest, you may even kill them though they might be the key to the plotline. When willing to go through a guarded gate, you may try lying, bribery… you may ask someone to distract the guards and try dozens of other ways. The range of choices is entirely up to the player! It is also worth mentioning that the game is based in non-linear structure, thus all the quests can be completed in several ways, additionally, many choices depend on the way we are perceived by others. Introducing such a degree of freedom requires us to work hard, yet we really believe that linearity of today’s games must not become a standard! Many contemporary games have the graphics of high-budget Hollywood productions, unfortunately they are just as linear and predictable! Hmm, the possibilities of today’s computers and imagination of game developers seems to be vanishing these days, and that is not the point, is it?
Another important element of the game is character equipping and development. And here is what the die-hard RPG purists might find surprising ;). First of all, we have a predefined protagonist – this stems from our willingness of telling a truly intriguing story revolving around him. Nonetheless, we can develop the main character in almost any way we like and wish. We can concentrate on passive traits or ‘invest’ in active skills. What is even more important, majority of the aforementioned may be modified by upgrades and power-ups ‘bought’ during the game. Personality and view of the world seem just as crucial. Depending on his deeds, the protagonist may become a renown savior or a ruthless murderer. He may become a heartless racist – killing all non-humans, or protect them at any cost. Or he may be renown for killing non-humans! As you can see… the freedom of choice is huge and almost unrestricted.
CDProjekt: We are trying to approach the idea of equipment and inventory in a way, that has not yet been seen in cRPGs. First and foremost, we decided that even a near superhuman character should not be able to carry 5 full-plated armors ;). That’s why the idea of equipping is unlike all you’ve ever seen. We have 5 main ‘slots’ for the weapons (they can be sheathed or strapped to our belt). We can also change our garments, yet all the items we find can only by stored in a belt-sack. So, as you can see, our ‘collectorship’ should only be aimed at the most precious items and elixir ingredients – so important for the Witcher. It is because of them, that the Witcher will be able to achieve supernatural strength and agility. As far as elixirs go, we’ll have a reasonable amount of freedom when mixing them together.
Last but not least, there’s the idea of intuitiveness of control. Therefore, we intend to give the players three ways to control the main character. The very basic is the mouse-based control system. It’s an ample means of controlling the game, which allows full comfort and is unbelievably simple to use. We think that it will be nicely completed by a standard isometric view of the game. More proficient gamers will be presented with the opportunity to use the WSAD + mouse combination – and here we believe TPP perspective will be the most suitable. Both of these, however, will be enhanced by the possibility of defining one’s own key bindings and a wide range of the screen customization options, allowing the player to control the game in a way he or she finds the most efficient.
To put it all together, we believe that the time has come for the RPGs to achieve and gain new quality. We wish they would be more realistic, plot-oriented and visually mature… Open, to put it short, so as to bring loads of sheer joy. We wish for the RPGs to concentrate on intriguing storyline and to offer as much freedom in making decisions as possible. We wish for them to present us with non-linearity and real-life realism and to avoid the childishness and over-simplicity. We’ve had enough of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ struggles, enough of over-polishing the rough realties.
Of course, the very term of RPG Redefined might sound fancy or even bold. As for now, however, we’re sure our game is and will be RPG Redefined. Will our ideas influence the genre… depends on many factors. Yet, we’re certain we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of directing the RPGs into an entirely new route… Even if by means of some our inventions only.
Some might ask, how will newbies, fledglings fulfill their promises? True… we might respond, but the freshness we represent allows us to look at the genre from an entirely unbiased perspective – and it helps, helps a lot. It’s like we’re completely new, so we don’t realize the impossibilities… and since we don’t, nothing is impossible ;-).
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