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Working In 'A Dying Genre On A Dying Platform'

August 30, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

The Witcher was an unlikely hit in many ways. It was a single-player RPG released only for PC in 2007, when many were questioning the viability of single-player RPGs and PC exclusives. It was based on an Andrzej Sapkowski series of novels and stories that is well known in the author's native Poland, but obscure in North America. And it was the first game developed by CD Projekt RED, the nascent internal studio of Warsaw-based publisher CD Projekt.

Despite all those challenges, The Witcher's critically-lauded storytelling and lore helped it rack up more than 1.5 million copies on one platform. After shipping the game's "Enhanced Edition" based largely on fan feedback, RED got to work on The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings for PC – another example of a "dying genre on a dying platform," as senior producer Tomasz Gop likes to defiantly observe.

The experience of developing the Enhanced Edition of the original game, which was a free update for all existing owners of the game, solidified RED's practices of paying close attention to its community's feedback, and Gop says that mentality carried right over into the full sequel.

In an in-depth interview, he discussed the development process so far, drawing inspiration from many sources, adapting literary works in games, and keeping the fans in mind.

Did you transition right into The Witcher 2 straight from the first game? How far along are you?

Tomasz Gop: We started working on the game right after we had released the first one. It was October 2007. For the first year and a half, part of the team worked on the new engine -- basic low-level stuff and prototyping -- and it was around the time we released the enhanced version of The Witcher that the rest of the team moved.

Since then, it's been a year and a half that the whole team, around 80 people, has worked only on this project. We're about 60 percent done, and we're going to ship in Q1 2011.

Going straight into this project, did it help that The Witcher ended up being a bigger success than some might have expected? Did you expect it?

TG: You always account for that. [laughs] You always wish that you sell a lot of copies. There's a joke that we usually use: we sold one and a half million copies of a dying genre on a dying platform. And over a hundred awards.

But using what we got [from reviews and feedback], we started off doing the enhanced version. This is exactly the case with The Witcher 2 as well. We are trying to enhance on what people say, what media and fans say, our reviews and comments that we get. The Witcher 2 and all of its changes that we've made to the engine are based on what people think, and on the success we had.

We knew what people loved; we knew what people didn't. We didn't get 100 percent scores. We got 86. So, we still have places for improvement, and this is what we've been doing.

With that in mind, what are your main objectives in developing The Witcher 2?

TG: The most important thing that we know is that people still believe good hardcore RPGs are playable. People want to play these. There's one misconception many people have... This is not "action RPG," this is not "slasher RPG." We're trying to really make a solid RPG. We're not trying to make up genres. This is the main goal: telling a story. We're trying to have story, plot, characters, cinematic sequences, and all of that. That was the main reason to rewrite the engine and to make The Witcher 2.

It's interesting you say that about RPG versus action RPG, because The Witcher does have a reputation for having quite a bit of direct-control combat.

TG: Combat plays a big role because [protagonist Geralt] is a Witcher. He's a master swordsman. But still, if there is any feature that we put in front of all the rest in The Witcher, it's definitely the story.

You've moved away from the timing-based attacks. What was the thinking on redesigning combat?

TG: The reason we changed the combat was so that we could keep it a hardcore game -- because there are thousands of RPG and engine mechanisms still lying underneath -- but at the same time make it accessible to people who don't really care about combat and just want to experience the story. If you just want to swipe quickly through the combat, you might do it on easy.

On the easy difficulty level, the combat isn't that hardcore. You have a lot of possibilities, but you're not obliged to use them – systems like alchemy, preparing for combat, and so on, and so on. We of course try to address a wider target [audience] but still maintain all of these mechanisms that make the game an RPG, with stats-based [systems].

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Daniel Ferlise
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And even the original Witcher couldn't quite get choice right. The critical moments always seemed to force you down one of two paths, and then the way you've tried playing never quite correlated with Geralt's and others' reactions and dialogue (strict neutrality seemed cruelly impossible in a lot of ways). I'm glad they've accomplished so much more than BioWare has, even with ME2, in that regard to morality by simply having consequence to actions, but I do hope (and certainly have the faith) they'll pull off what they need to to improve the overall story flow.

Also, seriously, Arkham Asylum? If they pull off a combat system that precise, flowing, simple yet complex, easy yet challenging, there will be plenty of players in this game just for the gameplay itself. Pull off a story as good as Arkham Asylum was, and they're golden (and we already know they did once)

Tomiko Gun
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Wrong! You guys are working on a niche genre on an enthusiast platform.

It's always been that way, gamers have a lot of choices now. It's not dying, instead you're left with the real audience for the PC, the passionate PC modding/spend-money-on-upgrading-my-video-card-instead-of-buying-new-games hardcore.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Bart Stewart
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As long as there are general-purpose home computers, there will be a market for games that run on those computers.

Roberto Bruno
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Hardfcore RPGs aren't a niche genre at all. They are just an overlooked genre, most of the times.

Rob Wright
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Loved The Witcher. Enhanced edition was my GotY for 2008. This may be blasphemy, but I prefer it over Oblivion. And if the storyline for 2 is as good as the first, then I'll be more than satisfied. I'm dying to know if Alvin really is the [Spoiler Block] and what will happen after the cliffhanger ending.

Roberto Bruno
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"Blasphemy"? Are you joking? Oblivion SUCKS.

Joe Cooper
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It does. The faces make it look like they outsourced the art to space aliens who have never seen human face and all they have to go on is a text description. The stories are trite, the acting is horrible...

But the Shivering Isles was not bad at all.

David Tarris
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The only blasphemy here is you taking Clint Eastwood's portrait in vain by saying something so lame.

Andrew Grapsas
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The Witcher was one of the most enjoyable RPG's I've played in a long time. I didn't play the enhanced version, I might have to now, especially since it seems TW1 actions will impact some character in TW2!

Daniel Camozzato
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The only thing I know is that I'm not going to get a console. Console games suck.

Charles Forbin
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Every single one of them, huh?

(double facepalm)

Honestly, is there a point to you?

Daniel Camozzato
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No, of course I don't mean *every* single console game sucks. I apologize, I could have phrased that better. What I meant was that, considering the price for a console (ludicrous where I live), plus the price of the console game (ludicrous where I live), plus the lack of innovation in console games (in general), plus the availability of good games in a specific console, it is not worth buying a console. I believe that the best games (innovation-wise, fun-wise) are still being developed for the PC. Also, there are now a lot of indie games being developed for the PC, and that is also a great thing for the PC. Of course, there are indie games for consoles too, but from what I've seen, far too many are "AAA wanna bes".

Josh Foreman
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When did this turn into a Kotaku forum?