Witcher 2, you seem different somehow. Did you get a haircut? Have you been working out? Are you pregnant with a future barbershop owner who will also be a professional body-builder? No? Well then, color me stumped. Unless… no way. Is today the launch of your Enhanced Edition, which has been heralded incessantly by a procession of myths, prophecies, and, like, a million trailers? Truly astounding. I jest, however, because I love, and I certainly can’t complain about gobs of free fixes and content. But what about an altered ending (yes, just like that one thing) and general acceptance of “mature” content in the gaming industry? Are these things worthy of my trusty torchfork, the latest in pitchfork, torch, and duct tape technology? I spoke with CD Projekt Red managing director Adam Badowski to find out.
“There are few games like The Witcher 2, and we are not afraid to say, ‘Hey, we are not a game for everyone. We won’t treat you as a child – at any level,’” began Badowski. “The gaming community is growing, and every demographic has something for themselves. Diversifying and finding your target is important. We’ve chosen ours – adults who want ambitious games. And we will stick to that.”
But what, nowadays, does that even mean? Years ago, it was fairly cut-and-dry. Did a game have blood, cursing, and a brooding anti-hero lead? Well then, it got slapped with the appropriate age rating and greeted with an elementary-school-like chorus of “ooooooooos.” Now, though, things are a bit more complicated. Dear Esther, for instance, spilled nary a drop of blood nor bounty of bosoms, yet it even frightened away many adults. And what of PlayStation 3 indie darling Journey? Its sand-caked, candy-coated graphics seem to suggest a world of childlike whimsy, yet its overall experience requires thoughtfulness and contemplation. Are these games “adult”? And, among them, where does Witcher’s seemingly juvenile love of blood spilling and male gazing fit in?
“Our game is targeted to a grown-up audience,” Badowski elaborated. “Watching the opposite sex naked is quite pleasant, but real adults don’t get excited over a nipple. They are a part of our world and their appearance in other media doesn’t shock anyone. The nudity in our game serves the story, it’s a form of artistic expression – they are a part of the game world.”
“But also the subjects we touch in the storyline and the type of moral choices the player faces require a certain level of world awareness that only adults have. We often have the player make morally controversial decisions, which force them to really think about their actions. This layer of maturity is very important in our game, and it provides really ambitious entertainment. I dare say that the nuances and controversies define our game as mature even more than sex and violence. Those aspects provide great entertainment, but they have to be put in the game with taste.”
And ultimately, no matter the weightiness of the message, that’s what this is: entertainment. So what happens when a certain aspect of your game doesn’t have players enviously eyeing every furniture store they pass just because they want a new seat to move to the edge of? Well, you fix it, of course. And with 102 fixes in the pipeline, I’m thinking CD Projekt might just be on board with that idea. Granted, it’s one thing to litter the game with “assorted animals” (which sounds like something that should come in a small, heart-shaped box), but what of heavier hitters like – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – “extended” endings that provide players with more tangible consequences for their actions while remaining true to the original ending’s vision?
“What we did doesn’t compromise our artistic integrity,” Badowski said. “We didn’t change the ending, but extended the outro. The story of The Witcher 2 is complete, and we didn’t change the writing. By extending the outro we mean adding new cinematics to it. We are really proud of what our story team did, so there was no point in changing that. What we added is a short cutscene and a series of final-boards. These short scenes will change depending on the player’s choices in the game. They show how your decisions influenced individual characters, locations and kingdoms. Our game was always about choice, and this is a neat way to show players how they really had control over the story.”
“When it comes to criticism, it wasn’t the ending that fans found bad, but that the final chapter was too short and left some loose ends. That’s why the additional quests take place in the final part of the game. They are added not to leave some questions unanswered and make the game experience complete. There was no strong accent at the end. The game just stopped. That’s why we added the final boards and the outro. Now there’s a real POW at the end. This was both made for our own satisfaction and for the fans.”
The parallel between CD Projekt and BioWare’s respective attitudes, approaches, and solutions to a similar problem, then, is well worth a momentary donning of your flowing costume beard for a chin stroke or two. Admittedly, the tremendous “fan” pressure that prompted BioWare’s reaction is the key piece in this puzzle, but both ending up-endings paint a picture of game stories as malleable. This isn’t intrinsically good or bad, as it all depends on what developers and gamers come to expect from it. So far, both Mass Effect and Witcher have arrived at – at least, on paper – eerily similar conclusions as to where this winding trail of blood, sweat, and tears should lead. What the future brings is anyone’s guess, but for now, this hardly sounds like the end of the world.
We still haven’t, however, answered the most important question of all. So then, have they fixed the goddamn doors?
“We didn’t change the doors, because we didn’t consider them an issue at all,” admitted Badowski.
Then all hope is lost.