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].