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Earlier, you mentioned Batman: Arkham Asylum as another example of a game that includes a fairly deep total combat system while still allowing users to take a very simple approach if they wish. Was that game a direct influence?
TG: [Arkham Asylum] has got that great feature. We're not afraid to mention our inspiration; I don't think that's bad. You could do combat mindlessly, let's say, if you wanted to, or you can plan for combat encounters, learn the system and tons of moves, and strategically plan your combat, see your outcome, and have a lot of satisfaction. And I believe this is going to be the case in The Witcher 2.
How much iteration did it require to reach that point?
TG: We're not done yet. We're still not done with focus tests. We're in the alpha stage, as you can see. So we've done prototyping. We're finalizing what features we want and which ones didn't make it into the game, but the final look and final feel of these, the tweaking, the timing, and so on, have yet to be determined throughout alpha and on the verge of beta.
With the first game, you had already basically transformed BioWare's Aurora engine beyond recognition. Why start over and write your own from scratch now?
TG: I think we did quite well with telling the story in The Witcher. I think a lot of people said, "You wanted to tell a good story, and you chose a good means to tell it." But we had a lot more ideas that we couldn't do with Aurora. We believe that people liked our approach to The Witcher, and we have more ideas to do the same kind of thing that people appreciate, but we couldn't do them with The Witcher 1.
So, we rewrote a lot of tools, the whole toolset for storytelling, for non-linear story branching, scripting, dialogue, community subsystems, attitudes [NPCs] have around the world, people reacting to you. All of those have separate editors and debuggers right now, and they're all scripting systems that are easy to use for our designers. Of course there's a renderer as well.
Those kinds of systems have traditionally been what Western RPGs strive for. Can you talk about any of them in more depth?
TG: There are a lot of things, actually. You can see it even just in [this gameplay demonstration, featuring a combat encounter and branching dialogue]. There are systems that let us branch the story because we have more endings to this story than we had in The Witcher. Not one or two more; way more. We have a lot more factors that influence how the story branches and what you will see.
It's not only dialogue choices. For example, you want to take care of who you stick with throughout the game, your companions and so on. We also have companions in the battlefield. You don't command them directly, but they are independent guys or women who can help you, and they can change the outcome of a battle.
You have communities, societies. A lot of things are going on inside the cities, inside the places you will visit, and they're often independent of your actions. There are things that are going on that don't always wait for you to see them. Dialogue looks more lively. People can join in or join out of the dialogue. There's no limitation towards number of participants.
You mentioned Batman. Any other games you've looked at recently that you've drawn inspiration from or found particularly interesting?
TG: Well, we try to play all major games that come out and discuss them in the studio. But as far as games that inspired us, for example, I thought the sex in Heavy Rain was something that fit the game. It wasn't, like, for 14-year-old people who want to see naked women. It was a story of two people getting together. That was one of the things that inspired us to change the presentational aspect of sex in The Witcher 2. You don't have collectible cards anymore, basically. It's more story-driven, cinematic.
You probably have seen that dialogue is streamlined now. Some people see this and think Mass Effect. Yeah, of course. That was good and interesting, but we don't do what they do in Mass Effect where they suggest to you which one is good and which one is bad. You have these blue and green [dialogue choices], from what I remember. That's not the case in The Witcher's world. You don't have that. Moral choices are more difficult.
How do you approach designing or writing moral choices? More and more games these days are trying to include that kind of situation, but most of them do it with numbers or scales.
TG: Yes. You know, I have to start with saying it's a really comfortable situation for us to be able to draw from the world that was created by Andrzej Sapkowski, the guy who wrote the books The Witcher is based on. We don't have a generic fantasy world, which is great. I can tell you that's one of the major sources for the gray morality system, because he created that.
The main principle is that you don't think about [morality] when you're making a choice in the game. It's a matter of whether the game wants you to recognize that you're good or you're bad, or if it just wants you to think about what you should do if you were the Witcher. It means that all of these choices have consequences, but they're not based on whether you're good or bad. They're based on what you want.