CD Projekt Red On The Making Of The Witcher 1:
“We thought we could accomplish anything.”

The Witcher 3 [official site] brings to a close one of the strangest trilogies in games. Unlike a series like Mass Effect, where the first game’s design laid a foundation for each subsequent instalment, The Witcher series completely reinvented itself at every turn. Yet despite the way CD Projekt Red lurched from one design to another, the series also retained an undeniably unique and consistent identity.

How much of The Witcher series’ evolution was by design, and how much was improvised? It’s hard to say, even for the CDP veterans who oversaw Geralt’s video game odyssey from beginning to end. I know because I asked.

“I remember a meeting that took place around the time when The Witcher was released,” wrote Sebastian Stępień, Creative Director at CD Projekt Red. “[CDP co-founder] Michał Kiciński produced a sheet of paper and said that he had the story blueprint for a three-part saga about the witcher. Later, I remember people talking about this legendary document, but that meeting was the first and only time I ever saw it.”

Despite the popularity of the original Witcher novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, the game series started on a wing and a prayer.

“You have to remember that back around 2005-2007, we were really young, really inexperienced, even outright naive in that we thought we could accomplish anything,” said Mateusz Kanik, Game Director. “What’s more, we actually believed we had the know-how to do it. In hindsight, I honestly have to say that we were wrong.”

Kanik means his remark in good humor, but there’s some truth to his harsh self-assessment. The Witcher remains a strange game, and a big part of its unusual character comes from the struggles CD Projekt endured as it battled the Neverwinter Nights engine.

Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, another CDP Game Director, explained, “It was our first title, a project we actually used to learn how to develop games. On top of that, we had huge ambitions that extended well beyond the capabilities of BioWare’s engine. Above all, we wanted to push the envelope graphically, so we rebuilt the renderer from scratch and created our own means for displaying visuals.”

One of the unique things about The Witcher, back in 2007, was the way it was brimming with life-like details. I remember being floored when the skies opened up over a tiny village center and everyone started running for shelter, clustering under eaves and awnings while waiting for the storm to pass.

“Since BioWare’s engine didn’t support large in-game communities, we had to create our own tools that would let us generate populations that would be satisfactory in size and follow a daily life cycle,” Tomaszkiewicz said. “It wasn’t easy, but ultimately we managed to produce something that truly resembled a living world, where folk had their jobs and lifestyles. They’d leave their homes in the morning, visit the local tavern after work to unwind, then go home to their families come evening. Merchants would hawk their wares, guardsmen would patrol Vizima’s back streets.”

But the Neverwinter Nights engine still had to be clubbed into submission in some other ways, using tricks that are both laughable and ingenious.

“I remember thinking that the [Neverwinter editor] tool was pretty rigid, that it afforded designers little flexibility,” he continued. “I can’t count the number of times we had to resort to scripting unique events. Scripts in Neverwinter Nights were assigned to objects, so oftentimes we would place more complex bits of logic, for instance, in a torch hanging on the wall of a building inhabited by some specific NPCs.”

Improvised solutions like these let the team overcome their crude tools and lack of experience, and that’s why Kanik can’t call their effort a failure. But looking back from the vantage point of 2015, it’s hard for him not to wonder what The Witcher could have been if only they’d been a bit wiser.

“We made up for it with passion, commitment and plain hard work — and that’s why, in spite of everything, the game was a success,” Kanik said. “But if we ventured back in time with all we know and have now, we could avoid all those walls we crashed into head-on. We could avoid a multitude of problems, production-related and otherwise, and produce a game with far more polished features, and probably a far greater number of them.”

Despite its technical limitations, The Witcher’s themes and tone set it apart. The dirt and grime of that first game wasn’t in service of “gritty” realism or grimdark fantasy tropes, but a byproduct of the series’ relentless focus on ground-level, human-scale stories.

“Geralt makes a living by solving the problems of others,” explained Marcin Blacha, lead writer. “He travels from place to place, looking for opportunities to make money. That’s actually a very convenient excuse to tell stories about the everyday lives of the world’s inhabitants, be they kings, merchants, peasants or beggars.

While the story that ultimately drives the last act of The Witcher is a typical “battle for the fate of the world”, most of the game is concerned with petty crimes and betrayals.

“The games about Geralt contend that evil has its source in people – in their lies and weaknesses that others can easily exploit,” Blacha continued. “Stories of this kind are far more suggestive than, say, a story about an invasion by evil demons. True, we use supernatural beings and forces in the games, but merely as metaphors. The Beast from the Outskirts is not scary just because it’s a dangerous monster. It’s also frightening because it’s an incarnation of misdeeds and sins we might witness or experience in our daily lives.”

The flip-side of that is The Witcher’s focus on friendships. Even if Geralt was routinely exploring the dark-side of human nature, and alternating between dour impassivity and ironic distance, he was warmed by the friends who surrounded him.

“To this day,” said Stępień, “I have fond memories of Old Friend of Mine, [a quest] which culminated with the get-together at Shani’s house. That’s a quest that I think really manages to capture the spirit of Sapkowski’s prose, a spirit that’s hard to capture in a computer game because it assumes an almost complete lack of action: no enemies — none of the challenges players are used to having in a quest. But we managed to produce something successful and had a good time doing it. I think I still have the uncut version of that quest somewhere, where there’s at least three times as much dialogue as you saw in that quest in the game.”

From this site

65 Comments

  1. colw00t says:

    I should probably play these games at some point.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      Lol, that’s my thought whenever someone praises games like Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout or Bioshock. Funny thing is that I own all of those games, I just haven’t got around to playing them. The Witcher 1 was the last retail game I ever bought and I did that before The Enhanced Edition came out, yet didn’t play it until a few years later.

      When I finally I did play The Witcher 1, I couldn’t believe that I had waited so long to play such a great game. Just like with Vampire the Masquerade, I can’t get enough of that world and has read all the Witcher books translated to English (just bought the most recent one, Sword of Destiny).

      I probably should get around to playing those other games, but I’ve got others to play right now, like Risen which earned the no. 48 spot on RPS list of Best RPG’s.

    • waltC says:

      You have never played any of them?

      What I like about the first one is its sense of humor…the game did not take itself too seriously–it made the game charming in many respects and light-hearted to a degree. In the second game, all of that ended with a Geralt & game world that suddenly decided it was very important & largely unable to poke fun at itself–too serious, too bleak, as if to repudiate the atmosphere of the fist game. I haven’t gotten far enough into the third one to make a judgment, but at the moment–a very early moment in the game–it appears to take the strengths of both the first and the second game and multiply them. I like Geralt’s sense of humor and enjoy seeing him display it because it makes him a far more believable character.

    • Damien Stark says:

      You really should, because they’re great and there’s nothing quite like them, but if you’re going to play the whole trilogy, you need to set your expectations.

      As they emphasize in this article, the first one was made with a fairly inappropriate game engine for what they wanted to do, and it shows in the combat and interface sometimes. Calling the combat QTE-like is almost generous. But the characters and the world are fascinating. Just playing an RPG where potions and buffs were a critical part of the lore and preparation – rather than inventory-cluttering nonsense to be ignored like in most RPGs – was an interesting shift for me.

      The second one is a huge improvement in the gameplay, and the third is a big improvement up from there.

      Story-wise, the whole game trilogy picks up the story where the book series left off and continues it, BUT the first game opens with the main character getting amnesia and thus basically putting all the events from the books on hold. The second game ends with memory restored and thus the beginning of the third game essentially starts back on the path of the story in the books after having mostly ignored it for two whole games.

      The first two games also do a fairly poor job of easing you into that story. You’ll be pretty confused what all these countries are and who these monarchs and friends are, and it doesn’t do a great job explaining any of that upfront. You just kind of have to roll with it until it starts to make sense.

      All of that is to say, if you were to skip the first two games entirely and play only the third, you wouldn’t really be at much of a disadvantage in either story or gameplay.

      I really enjoyed all three of them, and I’m glad I played all three, but I don’t blame people who get excited by the hype, try the first game, and bounce off of it.

      • gebbet says:

        +rps gold (if there was any..)

        • Damien Stark says:

          Heh, thanks kind stranger.

          I love the books and the games, and I’m super excited about them, but I feel like getting caught up in that excitement and telling friends “you’ve got to play this, it’s awesome, go get the first Witcher game right away!” is just a recipe for disappointment and frustration.

      • Boomstick says:

        Yeah, the first game engine wasn’t a good choice. I had a fairly high end computer at the time, and then I upgraded it to a high end computer circa 2008 and inside the temple district, it still ran choppy at no more than 30fps even at low settings. Fortunately, the rest of the game ran fine at max settings on both computers, especially parts where I would see combat and the choppy gameplay would not have been acceptable.

    • Boomstick says:

      I highly recommend this game series to anyone. If I could play only one game series in my life, I would have to pick the Witcher. The storyline in these games is amazing! Every bit of lore adds to the world and isn’t just there for the sake of putting something in the game at a certain point. The soundtrack is as epic as the storyline.

      I even loved the first game. The combat was fairly bland, just a fairly repetitive clicking system, and they made you run across the map in a long, roundabout way, then go back and do it again in parts. But the story was so epic, I just couldn’t put it down!

      The second game fixed the combat system, and removed the time wasted by traveling back and forth and back and forth. It was in my opinion, too short, too easy to find herbs, had too few side quests, and as you got more abilities and better gear, the end of the game was much easier than the start. But all in all, it was still an excellent game and really, nearly a perfect RPG minus my few, relatively small issues .

      I just upgraded my GTX 760 to a 980TI so I could play the Witcher 3 last week. I haven’t started it yet (waiting to start it until I go camping next week and a huge patch just came out), but I hear it fixed all of my issues with the second game. Also, they were building the Wild Hunt storyline in 2, and it sounds like it has a lot of potential so I’m really excited to play it.

  2. Premium User Badge

    zigguratvertigo says:

    Superb article, thanks Rob.

  3. Paul says:

    Wonderful article, thanks for that.

  4. DrHuge says:

    Excellent article. I’ve been reflecting while playing through TW3 on how dark the series’ view of humanity is. People are not pretty. Rural peasants are crude, superstitious, parochial and violent. Urbanites are decadent, conceited and individualistic to the point of isolation. All of them are greedy and bigoted. Geralt and co., meanwhile, present a counterpart to this: open-minded, diverse, autonomous, yet all tightly connected.

    • 2late2die says:

      I know what you mean. I thought I started getting used to how “dark” this world is when I encountered this “minor side quest” (in quotes, because in W3 most side quests are not really minor).

      * Spoilers ahead, ye been warned *

      So in this quest a farmer’s young son had a curse put upon him that was quickly killing him. As I discovered, said curse was done by a woman from a nearby village that resented the farmer for leaving her for another – this woman also happened to be a herbalist I interacted with before, and seemed perfectly pleasant. I mean damn, she was taking it out not on the guy, or his wife, but on an innocent child. But wait, it gets worse.

      I was ready to fully hate that woman, except that the only way to lift the curse without her doing it herself was to reverse it onto her, i.e. kill her via that same curse. Of course the guy was all for that option, maybe a bit too much so, and the only way she’d agree to lift the curse is if he were to leave his family for her, abandoning them to poverty and taking away their standing in the village.

      So these were my choices: Let a child die; Kill a (despicable) woman in cold blood; Or let a single mother and a child fend for themselves. I mean damn, talk about trying to choose the lesser evil. I ended up going with option 3 – I’m sure many would’ve reversed the curse onto the woman, but I just couldn’t bring myself to kill her, as hateful as she is, in cold blood. Suffice it to say the guy hated me for it and told me to never show my face again.

      It’s not the most “tragic” quest in the game, but I was surprised by its brutality and by the fact that this was just a “minor side quest” in the game. In most RPGs a story like that would be attached to big characters, exciting events, bombastic action and a bunch of cool looking cutscenes. In Witcher 3 though, it’s just an almost mundane part of this messed up world where ordinary people are capable of such terrible and cruel deeds.

      This small little quest without any combat that took me 10 minutes to complete, got me thinking more than some of the biggest, longest quests in other epic RPGs. Is it any wonder I love this game.

  5. Sakai says:

    “Or there is the rise of the Church of Eternal Fighter…” Fairly certain it’s fire, not fighter. :)

  6. Henson says:

    “The Witcher was not drawing from Tolkien, Shakespeare, and King Arthur stories for its inspiration”

    Actually, yes, it was. Just the first game includes references to both, and the second directly quotes Tolkien. It draws upon them because it draws upon everything.

    But yeah, it has so much of an atmosphere derived from the experiences of Slavic countries, too, so that’s a main inspiration, if not the only one.

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      fliptoy says:

      I mean, in the end of the book series Ciri literally ends up in the world clearly resembling Arthurian Avalon. There is also a story parallel to the “Beauty and the Beast”, a wonderful take on “The Little Mermaid” and a neat reference to Cinderella.

      So it was not just drawing: as far as I can tell, Sapkowski was rather fascinated and inspired by Western European folklore.

      • YogSo says:

        And don’t forget that the story that leads to the conflict that earns Geralt the title of “the butcher of Blaviken” is a very dark take on Snow White’s tale.

      • TheAngriestHobo says:

        It’s worth mentioning that Poland has its own version of “The Little Mermaid” story, in the Mermaid of Warsaw. I suspect that this might have been the original source of inspiration for the mermaid quest you brought up.

        link to en.wikipedia.org

    • trollomat says:

      And most of those are not even remotely subtle. Did you not meet the Lady of the Lake?

  7. woodsey says:

    SPOILERS FOR WITCHER 1

    The ending to the first Witcher isn’t any less intimate than the rest of the game, it’s just got fancier window-dressing: it is all but explicitly said that Alvin is the Grand Master and so the final act really functions as a demonstration of the sheer difference that seemingly innocuous conversations with a child can make.

  8. ChairmanYang says:

    CDPR’s naive ambition was one of the reasons for the original Witcher’s success, I think. Around the time of release, PC RPGs (and PC gaming in general) were getting moribund and suffering from low budgets or a lack of ambition. Many developers consolized their series or simply switched to consoles altogether (like Bioware with Mass Effect). The trend in RPGs was clearly towards less complexity, less reactivity, and less content.

    CDPR (along with many Eastern European/Slavic developers) apparently didn’t get the memo, and their games stood out because of it.

  9. Mindestens says:

    One of the unique things about The Witcher, back in 2007, was the way it was brimming with life-like details. I remember being floored when the skies opened up over a tiny village center and everyone started running for shelter, clustering under eaves and awnings while waiting for the storm to pass.

    If people writing for RPS were still impressed by that in 2007, no wonder Gothic (2001) nor it’s sequel (2002) didn’t make it to the list of best role-playing games. I always greatly prefered Gothic II over Morrowind – among other reasons, Bethesda’s product just didn’t stand a chance to those of Piranha Bytes in how it depicted it’s world and illusioned it as a living one, NPCs fleeing from rain in similar games to the Witcher was a thing at least five years before it in Gothic II.

    Anyway, I think that to choose Risen to represent Piranha Bytes works on that list was just bizarre.

    • hemmer says:

      Yeah Gothic 2 was way ahead of its time where those systems were concerened. Every NPC hat their own life, routines and deviations from said routines. I was awestruck back then and never understood how years later people still hailed similar features as GROUNDBREAKING!
      G2 certainly wasn’t the first game to implement things this way, but it did it remarkably well for its time.

      That said, belieavable NPC schedules still aren’t all that common in most games, so there is a reason to still be excited when a game comes along that does them well.

      • Mhorhe says:

        I was thinking the exact same thing. After the 3 Gothic games when I first saw people taking shelter from rain in The Witcher I was like “mkay”.

        The complexity of scripts even in Gothic 1 was miles ahead that of The Witcher, where most NPCs mainly mill around during the day, sleep at night, and take shelter from weather.

        Whereas the average miner in ye olde Gothic castle would (I actually followed one around an entire game day way back then):
        1) get up in the morning
        2) fix some breakfast on the fire, eat it
        3) smoke
        4) get going to the mine
        5) swing a pickaxe all day, with breaks for eating/drinking
        6) get back to the castle in the evening
        7) fix dinner, eat it, smoke
        8) go to bed.

        And there were dozens of them back then too.

        Don’t get me wrong, the Witcher is one of my all time favorites, ahead of the Gothic titles – but I just thought the veterans should receive their due :)

    • piedpiper says:

      I think no one of RPS staff played Gothic. They always say about it in some generic words and I never heard their own opinions about it. Which is a big shame. It’s so much better than any Witcher or TES game in my opinion. Risen started as a big promise of returning to former glory (though it never was as great as first Gothics) but after key figures left Piranha Bytes Risen hit the ground with awfull sequell.

    • tur1n says:

      Hear hear!

      If you played Gothic back in 2001, none of those ‘groundbreaking’ open world rpgs that came after offered anything new. Must be a translation issue, I guess. Or maybe people tried the later entries in the series, which never reached the same heights.
      Gothic, the first game, was a labor of love for piranha bytes. Long delayed, the development time allowed them to really nail all those little aspects and, of course, the athmosphere of the game.
      The second one, which some people prefer, is the usual sequel. Everythings bigger, but it’s not quite as focused. Reminds me of Arkham Asylum compared to it’s sequels.

    • ansionnach says:

      There have been a few dark ages in which knowledge of the past seems to have vanished. Ultima V (1988) had a day/night cycle with NPC schedules, Ultima VII (1992) had them comment on the weather and do a lot more with their time (crafting, baking and so on). One memory I had of games like Fallout and Baldur’s Gate was just how disappointingly static they were in comparison. They did other things well but their legends have grown far beyond what they deserve. When they were released there was still a memory of other, better games but that seems to have changed. Same goes with the Gothic – Morrowind and beyond “memory” lapse. I was appalled by Morrowind – dull, shallow, dumbed-down console game that removed a lot of cool stuff that was in Daggerfall (except the bugs). It’s now a legendary game from back in the day before the “decline”. The decline kicked in about 1992 and there hasn’t been a recovery since.

      If someone’s going to make a claim about innovation or regurgitate some hype about it, why not check the facts first? Those who write regularly about RPGs should have completed all the Ultimas up to Serpent Isle (except the second one) and the Underworlds. Probably some Wizardry games and others too, but I’ll let someone who’s played them for more than a few minutes make suggestions there. If they haven’t done this they don’t have the authority to state which game innovated where or what the best RPG EVAR! is. At least with some knowledge of RPGs stretching back to the early eighties, what is written won’t be as wrong as what currently passes for accepted “wisdom”.

  10. YogSo says:

    I’ve been finally playing through the first Witcher game recently, having purchased the physical collector’s edition (pre-Enhanced Edition) many years ago. At the time, the last book hadn’t been translated to Spanish yet, so I was waiting to finish reading the story before playing the game. And well, you know how these things go: time keeps moving ever forward, other stuff gets in the way… But with all the Witcher 3 hype around I decided this was the time, downloaded the GOG version, installed the FCR mod (hardest difficulty on the easiest build), set the voices to Polish and the subtitles to English, and I’ve been having a blast for the past weeks.

    I just completed Chapter 2, so that “An Old Friend of Mine” quest is still fresh in my memory, and as a lover of the books it was a very special moment through and through (I played it first with character “C” just for the lulz, and I would have tried with “S” too, but he wasn’t available, sadly; going with “Z”, which was my intended option from the very beginning, was great).

    8 years late, but I’m very happy to have started this journey at last.

    • Thankmar says:

      Same here. I am not through yet (getting to the end of act 2, just completed “Old friend of mine”), but I thought after reading about it and its sequels so many years I knew what was coming, but it did surprise me with its originality. Mainly its what was mentioned in the article, that its gritty, but not playing the grimdark tropes. Its just so much more believable human, and by that I mean that it is including much warmth between the characters. For instance, I cannot decide between the the elven guerillas and their for me good cause and the Flaming Rose, because Roland is such a nice guy who is with the wrong people. Thats great for me, and it seems, the game won’t force me to choose, which is even better.

      • Slazer says:

        Sadly in my 2nd playthrough early this year the scripting was so all over the place that this quest didn’t even exist for me, or at least I wasn’t able to make progress after the authopsy.

        My first playthrough was 2008 and I would have loved to hear Dandelion talk about Regis again. He’s one of my favourites, though the wink to him in the brothel was rather weak hopned-in fan service

  11. Blist says:

    If anyone is interested in reading about how CD Projekt RED came to be, then there’s an excellent article over on
    Eurogamer article.

  12. P.Funk says:

    The naive ambition of these devs is specifically what we need more of in loftier bigger projects.

    Great article. Need way more like this one.

  13. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    Everyone remembers the end of Act 1 of The Witcher 1 for its failings: being brutally unprepared for a difficult boss battle immediately after a long series of cutscenes with no savepoint, the creepy transactional sex with the only two female NPC’s you deal with (with associated collectible cards), the “open world” being fairly limited and unimpressive.

    But if you pay any attention to the story, you get a very clear mission statement for the rest of the series. After doing a handful of seemingly run-of-the mill RPG quests for beleagured run-of-the mill RPG NPC’s, it quickly dawns on you that not only are these quests all interconnected, but the evil that this world is presenting to you is borne entirely out of the personal failings of those NPC’s.

    Ever since Ultima 4, RPG’s have struggled with how to present morality and agency, tracing a fairly straight line down to modern Bioware reward driven ethics. The first act of The Witcher pulled that rug out from under you entirely. Morality was not a system for the player to game, surrounded by passive and isolated questgivers. Morality was woven into the fabric of all stories, and it was your job to sort through the mess and survive.

    • Cyrus says:

      Yeah, the boss battle was beyond hard, because naturally you are not prepared or familiar with potions and such on your first attempt on the game.

  14. Rumpelstilskin says:

    I’m pretty sure Radovid was made after Putin though.

    • Coming Second says:

      He could be any ambitious, power-hungry leader slowly twisted by his own isolation and privilege into a paranoid madman (with a Mancunian accent). History is not starved of such figures and we reach for the touchstones that make the most sense to each of us, that’s exactly what Pugacz-Muraskiewcz was saying towards the end.

      I mean I never even thought of Nilfgaard in the light of them being Ottomans – for me they were clearly Russian imperialism, down to the complete contempt they hold for the lands they invade, with a frission of Dutch/Teutonic stylings to give them that extra baroque edge. I didn’t consider that a Polish company would have other, similar cultural experiences to draw upon. That’s what’s so fascinating about playing games from different cultures and reading interviews like this – you almost always run into completely different perspective on what you’ve already experienced.

      • Damien Stark says:

        Lacking the historical perspective of living in central or eastern Europe, I had mentally mapped Nilfgaard closer to Rome (despite the clearly German and/or Dutch flavored names).

        In the books at least (and to a much lesser extent in the games), they emphasize that while Nilfgaard is clearly “the big bad empire coming to swallow up all our independent states”, it’s also the pinnacle of culture and civilization. It’s more efficient and has a better economy, and runs its vassals more fairly and productively. There’s a handful of scenes where some recently conquered villagers are starting to tentatively express “actually things are kind of better under Nilfgaardian rule…”

        Mages in Nilfgaard are kept on tight leashes and treated with contempt and suspicion, but after seeing the entire story of the series, it’s hard to blame them. Literally every mage and sorceress in the whole of the Northern Kingdoms *was* lying and scheming and undermining the authority of their trusting rulers.

  15. criskywalker says:

    Their ambition is what is lacking from other developers and the reason why they can innovate and make unique games. That and their deep respect for gamers. While I think that the two first games were flawed, they really outdone themselves with The Witcher 3, which so far is a masterpiece.

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      I don’t think a lack of ambition is holding back most people in the videogame industry. It’s CDP’s ambition combined with genuine competence and a strong work ethic that’s rare.

      • TheAngriestHobo says:

        I think what Criskywalker is saying is that, given the choice, most large developers will still choose to err on the side of caution and stick to well-trod paths than risk the potential failure of a new innovation. Most of the “ambition” we see in the gaming industry comes from small indie studios that can afford to roll the dice on their dream project, because the financial risk is relatively small (and even failures can continue to fill a developers pockets for years, seeing as how Steam has no compunction about selling abandonware).

        Not that it’s surprising or anything. That’s just how businesses function. Get to the top, and you’ll be spending all your resources maintaining your position and fending off competitors. Hell, that’s how LIFE functions.

      • P.Funk says:

        I disagree. Ambition is specifically whats missing in most big budget game development. Ambitious projects break out, then everyone parrots it for the next decade and their version of ambition becomes combining elements of wildly different games to appeal to a wider consumer base – see recent article about the new Rainbow Six.

  16. Stupoider says:

    If you haven’t seen them already, these two videos explain and showcase early iterations of The Witcher before we got the final release. The first one goes for more of an isometric approach, the second goes for a kind of KotOR style (on an engine lended to CDPR by Bioware) and of course the final version of the game seemed to take a little inspiration from both (I’ve yet to play The Witcher in isometric mode though).

    link to youtube.com

  17. Phantom_Renegade says:

    Him wondering what it could have been just awes me. That was a pretty damn good game al ready. What could it have been, besides stable and not crashing every thirty minutes, I have no idea. Well some idea. Witcher 3 probably. Patching it to the super edition helped a lot though. Before that, it crashed every 5. Now I was actually able to finish it. A masterpiece marred by technical nonsense, Obsidian managed to overcome that, and now CDprojekt has as well. I’m not holding out much hope for Bioware ever really returning, but it’s good that there are successors that are every bit their equal, and even their superior to Bioware at their peak.

  18. cristoffson says:

    “The Witcher was not drawing from Tolkien, Shakespeare, and King Arthur stories for its inspiration, but the culture and history of a specific region.” This is a strange sentence, as the examples cited are of a culture of a “specific region”, just a different one. Maybe Shakespeare could be considered an exception as he is known throughout the western world, but Tolkien and King Arthur are very much English things, and elsewhere are read and understood as part of that specific culture.

    I enjoyed this interview a lot.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Interesting. I would have said that Shakespeare and the Arthurian tales are more traditionally British, whereas Tolkien has more global influence. Outside of the Anglosphere – in my experience, at least – Shakespeare isn’t very widely read. For example, for more Francophones can quote Edmond Rostand or Molière than the Bard, whereas elves and dwarves are just as prominent in their fantasy stories as they are in ours.

      • TheAngriestHobo says:

        *far

        Grumble grumble grumble.

      • Thankmar says:

        As a non-British, I would say that Tolkien is indeed global. Shakespeares plot are well known, and his plays are on the stages (translated, which in Germany is a thing of its own, because the translators had a special romantic style, if I remember correctly), but he may be not read as extensively. Same goes for the Arthurian thing: sword in the stone knows everyone, but thats it.

  19. craigdolphin says:

    I both love, and hate, the Witcher 3. I love almost everything about it. It is, without question, my favorite game of all time. It is utterly brilliant, a true masterpiece. It is the pinacle of character-driven western RPG’s. Finally, a game that has displaced DAO in my affections.

    But it is the LAST Witcher game. :(

    It’s not like there’s a lot of companies making AAA character driven RPG’s. Bioware is the only other one that comes to mind. And they’ve been shown up badly by TW3 IMO. And yes, there will be Cyberpunk which I will buy without reservation. CDPR deserve the support. But my heart is in fantasy worlds, not cyberpunk ones. And who knows whether it will be an RPG or something primarily shooter-ish?

    It is the last Witcher game, and I am left desolate in its wake. When will another game arise that can wrestle with its legacy? There’s not a single game on the horizon that looks remotely as promising to me. I hate that it represents the end of such an awesome journey.

    But damn, what a fantastic game. :)

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I don’t know CDPR’s future plans, but they have said several times that they’re not ending The Witcher franchise, merely ending Geralt’s story. They might do spin-offs including other witchers or Ciri, but that will probably be a few years after Cyberpunk 2077, so like at least 5 years from now. At least we got the DLC and the big expansion packs for now.

      The Witcher 1 is one of my favorite games and I just can’t get enough of it. Just walking around the world is a joy. I’ve just bought the short-story collection Sword of Destiny, so even though my awesome 4-year-old dual core gaming laptop won’t run The Witcher 3 I’ll still get some Witcher stuff to dig into. The Wikipedia page for Sapkowski also states that the last books in The Witcher saga will be translated to English in 2016 and 2017, so I’ll get to read a physical book instead of reading the fan translations on a screen. Yay, physical books!

      • Samuel. R says:

        The fan translations are very much a noble effort, and one I’m not alone in being very thankful for, but yes – physical and professionally translated copies will be fantastic. There’s also an “eighth” book in the series, “Season of Storms”, that’s set during the first (but contains spoiler-y information from the final book) but I don’t believe there’s any announced English release date for that one. There’s a fan translation for it currently in progress; a bit over halfway last I checked, but I haven’t read any of that.

    • Damien Stark says:

      I would be thrilled if they stuck only to the technical “this is the last Witcher game”, but continued to “only” produce expansions to it.

      I’m not normally a big fan of the giant DLC-mill (think games like Borderlands 2), but I would be ecstatic to keep this game engine and just once every six months purchase “Toussaint”, “Kovir”, etc.

      I don’t need anymore main-story-questline, but if they could keep revealing the rest of the Witcher world, with each region having as much content in it as Velen? Well I might not have time to play any other games ever again…

  20. Freud says:

    What I like most about the Witcher games is that most characters, even minor, have a set of motivations that makes sense given who they are and what they know. My favorite character in Witcher 3 is Emhyr, who is pitch perfect as a man for whom power is something he’s always had and something he’s learned to use freely.

  21. malkav11 says:

    I think it’s weird to cite Mass Effect, a series that has substantially reinvented itself with each iteration, most notably ME2, as your counterexample. Indeed, I would argue that the Witcher series has been much more consistent and linear in its design and evolution than either of Bioware’s big franchises at the moment. The biggest mechanical shift was moving away from the first game’s mouse-driven combat and ditching combat styles in the transition to 2, but that and a few other touches seem transparently necessary to bring the game’s systems into console compatibility and most people seem to prefer the more direct, straightforward approach to swordplay in the sequels (I don’t, but it’s a small quibble in the face of all the other things they get right). Otherwise, you’re getting the same mechanical touchstones – swordplay with steel sword for humans and silver for monsters (incidentally, he only carries one sword in the first three novels, although I think he might do the dual sword thing in the short stories); alchemy based on distilling herbs and monster parts into basic essences that slot into recipes you learn (though the later games drop the requirement to find alcohol and brew over a fire); the handful of magical signs Geralt has learned. You’re getting a similar mixture of politics, magicians, flawed humanity and hunting monsters for money, although the second game leans heavier on the politics because of the assassination plot you get caught up in. Etc.

    • Mhorhe says:

      I’m pretty sure the part about Geralt not using 2 swords in the first 3 novels is incorrect. He doesn’t necessarily wear both on his back at all times, which makes sense considering he’s not expecting drowners in a tavern, and a silver sword would be an item of value you’d want to keep away from prying eyes.

      As for the ME series reinventing itself more than the Witcher, I can’t say that I agree. Apart from moving from a more traditional (and kind of poorly made) 3rd person in the first game to the cover shooter in the 2nd, the differences between the individual ME games (especially 2 and 3) are fairly minuscule.

      • Samuel. R says:

        You are correct Mhorne; I recently re-read the Witcher book series and I recall the short story collections (so the first books) mentioning the two swords at once a few times.

      • malkav11 says:

        I read them in the last two months and although Geralt is surprisingly little present in the novels (less than 50% “screen time” on average, I would estimate), whenever the subject of his weaponry comes up it’s always “sword”, singular. And in (I believe) the third book, he is specifically gifted a Mahakaman sihil by a dwarven compatriot and that’s the only sword mentioned from that point. In the translated ones, anyway.

        As I say, the dual sword thing is definitely mentioned in at least one of the short stories compiled in The Last Wish. but that’s not the novels and aside from King Foltest’s daughter the striga, not much from those stories is relevant to the games that I’ve noticed. (They also predate the novels in the storyline.) Anyway. It’s a minor discrepancy in surprisingly faithful games. I just thought it was interesting.

    • Slazer says:

      The 2 sword are cited at least 2 time in the last wish, including the first Geralt Story ever written where he has the silver sword ready to fight the Stryga. In the big books you he doesn’t really do much hunting anymore and the sword he gets later seems to amke the dual approach obsolete.

      Mass Effect was a RPG/3rdPS hybrid from the beginning that had you flying from planet to planet and changed few mechanics through the different games. The Witcher went from what was technically a NWN style iso game with optional shoulder camera to classic action-adventure to full open world with 100s of quests.

      • Andrew says:

        I actually found that quest a little frustrating. The most obvious option, I thought, was to tell the woman that I was reversing the curse, so that she would have the option to lift it herself (or die). Surely, in that instance, she just would have lifted it. But yes, a good quest, and generally good stories all round.

      • malkav11 says:

        I don’t want to get into a big point by point argument about Mass Effect in the comments for an interview about the Witcher games, which I think are more interesting to discuss anyway. Suffice it to say that for me, at least, the second Mass Effect game’s mechanical changes are dramatic and extremely jarring, and it also has a major shift of focus and style of storytelling that was in a lot of ways equally as jarring although I enjoyed that part much more than the new mechanics. ME3 feels much closer to the first game in some ways but coming after 2 it’s another big shift of direction. By contrast, the shifts in engine and the opening up of the world in the Witcher games may seem like they ought to count as major changes of direction, but they have relatively little impact on the overall feel and direction of the series, and you’re doing much the same sorts of things both mechanically and narratively in the first game as in the third, just refined and expanded. Or at least, that’s true of the first two games and what little I’ve managed to play of the third. I do worry a bit about it having gone open world because games that thrive on tight, linear narratives can really lose their focus if they go open world, and it’s always an easy way to mix in tons of padding if the developer is so inclined. It was certainly a misstep for the Dragon Age games, if you ask me. But The Witcher games have always offered plenty of side jobs helping random people, particularly with monsters but sometimes other concerns, and have generally been content to let you wander around as you choose until you push the main plot into a particularly climactic portion, so it seems like that’s a formula that would easily expand out into wider territories, and I’ve heard it’s remarkably free of padding.

  22. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Despite extracting some enjoyment from the first Witcher game, I never finished it. Looking back, it seems like this was the first harbinger of the Age of I Don’t Really Like CRPGs Any More.

  23. DrMcCoy says:

    Apropos scripts. They’re also, for some weird reason, using both NWScript and Lua scripts. And the game data only comes with the “compiled” Lua bytecode that’s tied to a specific Lua version and CPU architecture.

  24. Samuel. R says:

    Great article. CDPR’s history really is fascinating. A comment above me already articulated this well, but I’ll repeat that I don’t necessarily agree that the end of the Witcher 1 devolves into “stop the end of the world” cliche fantasy stuff, as I interpret the message of the end more focused on how minor actions, conversations, and interactions (particularly with young children) can end up shaping one’s identity to a huge extent. If you meant the end of the Witcher 3 devolves a little into end of the world nonsense, then I would agree however (though all three epilogues in the Witcher 3 are strong and affecting).

  25. Damien Stark says:

    “In 2015, post-Game of Thrones, The Witcher series tells a fashionable sort of low-fantasy story. ”

    That context is pretty important. I know a lot of people who didn’t play it from the beginning are looking at starting the Witcher series and thinking “ugh, another grimdark fantasy series?” But this all started before Game of Thrones’ “all people are shitty” and Dragon Age’s “elves live in ghettos and slums and are constant victims of racist peasants”

    The Witcher series was a refreshing shift from a long tradition of RPGs where the protagonist is an angelic conquering hero who saves the world, and villagers are good friendly folk whose innocent lives are being disrupted by the big evil demon threat. This new, darker, “people are the real monsters” sort of fantasy like Witcher, GoT and Dragon Age (to a lesser extent) is just now becoming dominant, so the fatigue and backlash is just starting to build…

  26. postrook says:

    it’s Church of the Eternal Fire, not Fighter