You know, at least three quarters of RPS is really looking forward to The Witcher 2. Why? Because it’ll be even witcher. Ha! Sorry. Even my cats groaned at that. (But I’m not going to stop asking if Mafia 2 is even mafia that the original.) Anyway, The Witcher 2 will be an enormous lump of steaming hot fantasy RPG, crafted by a studio that has the money and the expertise to make it look good and play intricately. It’s worth being excited about because, while it’s not alone in the RPG club, it does seem to be leaning quietly on the bar with an air of eyebrow-raising confidence. It’s been some places, learned some things, got some stories to tell… and CD Projekt know it. Tomasz Gop is one of the CD Projektian gentleman of at the controls of the development machine: a senior producer, no less. He decided it might be okay to tell us a little bit about his game. I spoke to him via the magic of Skype. You may read on for certain bewitchment.
RPS: What is with all the RPG love in Europe? I mean, there are some US studios doing some interesting things, but the old fashioned RPG enthusiasm seems to radiate from European studios? Or am I just imagining things?
Gop: Interesting question. For most of the people I know, the guys that I know, the guys on this team and people I know outside of that who love RPGs, they all have a strong background on the pen and paper stuff. That means they have always had RPG in their blood, and migrating into computer games is just natural for them. I don’t know if that’s the scheme all around Europe, but from what I see from guys in Poland and European developers I talk to, they took to RPGs before they even thought about making videogames. That might explain it.
RPS: So are you being influenced by, say, Mass Effect 2 and Alpha Protocol?
Gop: Well it’s our own game, obviously, but we cannot hide that inspirations are good. We take inspiration from other games, it’s not a bad thing. And we see games inspired by The Witcher, we are inspired by things from The Witcher. But I don’t know, we could mention some games we’ve found inspiring, like I could name Heavy Rain, or name Batman, or… oh. I just got a post it from Borys saying “hello” to you. [Borys Pugacz-Muraszkiewicz, senior writer on The Witcher.]
Gop: Sorry… Yes. I was saying that we played Mass Effect and we have been inspired by some of that stuff, making our own dialogue technologies, but we have not taken it literally. I mean they have choices which are red for evil and blue for good, things do not fit The Witcher in this way…
RPS: Right then. Technology. You’ve done a lot of work to create new tech after Aurora, but how has that changed the design fundamentals of the game? How important is it for the nature of the game?
Gop: It is the most important thing. We knew by the end of The Witcher that we wanted to write new technology, I mean, we did not /hate/ Aurora, but there were things we knew we wanted to do with the game. Aurora was fine for The Witcher 1, but we wanted more freedom in another game, and so we started writing an engine from the moment we released the first Witcher. Initially it was just a small team, but after a year the engine was ready to start building a game on. At that time the whole team moved into working on that for The Witcher 2. The reason for doing all this was not the graphical stuff, although it was a good excuse to work on that, it was the tools, the editor and so on. The tools for creating the storyline, a non-linear storyline, you need powerful tools to present all that stuff in a useful way. That was the most important thing. Now we have our own tools we can do all this stuff, we have tools for things like creating composite characters: legs, chest, hands, heads, all composed from a set into characters that are far more detailed than anything we did even in the Enhanced Edition of The Witcher.
RPS: But stuff like the combat system… is that the same?
Gop: Hmm. I’m not going to say we have precisely the same combat system, but we’re also not ready to give a dedicated presentation, maybe in a few months. We need to explain to people exactly how the presentation works, and right now I have to get people to take my word for it that the combat is not hack ‘n’ slash action. It’s not action gamer way of doing it, but we want to give people the feel of how the Witcher really moves. We wanted to get rid of the static elements – the sequences of strikes in The Witcher 1 were good, but you would have to carry that out to the very end to get the most out of it, but now we can combine any kinds of strike and they still build up to the same thing. There are no fixed stances and so on. We have done a lot of mo cap to show all this, because we want to show Geralt moving really incredibly fast. That is the goal for changing the combat – it looks faster, and it more dynamic. It’s smoother, and I think hands-on demonstrations will show that.
RPS: You don’t want to appeal to the hack ‘n’ slash player…
Gop: Well, we want to appeal to them, we’re just not making an action RPG. That’s what we are really clear about. That is not The Witcher.
RPS: So the traditional CRPGer and the men who like stories are your target audience?
Gop: Yes, absolutely, that’s why we started our informational campaign with the story. That is absolutely at the forefront of what we want to say is important about this game.
RPS: So let’s talk about the story: what’s going on in The Witcher 2?
Gop: Well, I must assume you have played The Witcher 1? But anyway at the end of that you will have noticed that there is something going on. We were, of course, already planning to extend the story. At the end of the game there is a scheme, someone is trying to kill the king. The Witcher 2 is this, it’s a direct sequel. Things that happen in The Witcher 2 take much wider scale, both in land and in politics. There are more of the guy who tries to kill the king, something drives them, and it’s that you are finding out about. The guy that tried to kill the king will start off the main thread in The Witcher 2, and you are going to find out more about that. Geralt would like to find out more about the assassin, but there are still some area of Temeria in which there is a rebellion, and it’s to one of these areas that the king travels, asking Geralt to go with him. You start at the castle of a female baron, and it’s a prologue to the game. We have shown some stuff from act one, but something has happened before that in the prologue. You’ve found stuff out, you’ve met knew people. It’s going to be epic, a boom!
RPS: So how big is the game going to be?
Gop: Well there are things we don’t yet know, things we need to test and find out about. But we do know that there will be three main acts, three chapters, and there will be the prologue and the epilogue. As I mentioned the areas you are in will be way bigger, but we are trying to get rid of the quests that are purely about time – the FedEx quests, “fetch me something” and so on. So on the one hand it will take time to see everything and explore everything, especially as areas will be so open for you, but the quests will be more packed. So it will probably take less hours to finish The Witcher 2, but exactly how many gameplay hours is not clear right now.
RPS: Oh, what I meant to ask – are you going to fix alchemy?
Gop: Yes, yes, we have made many changes based on feedback from the first game. For example, you can meditate anywhere in The Witcher 2. These small adjustments are important to the whole, tweaks for the original game. Other things have been entirely redone. So the manual processing of potions is entirely different. Brewing potions isn’t obligatory, of course, but you can create more useful potions if you spend the time in what I guess is a mini-game. Also potions must be drunk before combat, not during combat. They are now preparational.
RPS: So are PC gamers with expensive new PCs going to see much return for their investment for this game?
Gop: We’re almost a year ahead of the release of the game, and right now we are using very high end PCs for our presentations, but when the game comes out I don’t expect they will be high end. The detail that we have right now has a really, really high level of detail, you need to see it live for the proof. The textures are really high detail. You have to downgrade textures for mid range PCs right now, and on a monster PC it really is going to be wow.
RPS: I played the enhanced edition with Polish voice acting and English subtitles, it meant it was like playing…
Gop: A foreign movie!
RPS: Exactly. Are you going to be including those same language features in The Witcher 2 from the start? Am I going to be able to play with Russian voice-acting?
Gop: I can’t promise anything, because it’s not confirmed. The same answer we give to questions about consoles! We would love to, but we can’t talk about it now.
RPS: Is it true you’re not going to use DRM for this release?
Gop: Well we didn’t make any announcement, actually. Because of the recent talk with Namco we had to react, because we feel it’s important people do not associate anything with The Witcher 2, because nothing is decided. I mean, it is not going Ubisoft DRM. People know our opinions on DRM, so it’s clear that we are not going to allow the players to get hurt by whatever we do.
RPS: Okay, we are running out of time. Anything else we should mention at this stage?
Gop: I want to mention the story again. People know the story in The Witcher was good, so we will get some credit there, I think, but The Witcher 2 will be really good. Also I think this will be the best looking RPG ever, and I really can’t wait to be able to do some more detailed presentations to show people how the game feels. Hands on stuff showing the new dialogues and the new combat – how they work – I can’t wait for that.
RPS: We can’t wait either! Thanks for your time.
The Witcher 2 is arriving next summer, probably.