[In this in-depth interview, CD Projekt Red senior producer Tomasz Gop discusses the development of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and how design influenced engine building, narrative vs. player freedom, and how community influenced the game's design.]
The RPG genre has risen in stature over the course in the past few years. One title that made an unexpectedly large splash on its release, and contributed to the rise of the form is The Witcher.
The original 2007 game, an adaptation of the works of Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski, was developed in Poland by CD Projekt Red.
That game was later rereleased as an Enhanced Edition which was largely influenced by community reaction and propelled the game to even greater heights of international popularity.
For the sequel, which releases this week, the team has gone back to the drawing board -- starting from the development of a new engine specifically designed to give the designers greater authorial control, to making profound changes that weren't possible with the Enhanced Edition of the first game, the developers clearly hope it's a meaningful evolution of The Witcher's world.
In this interview, senior producer Tomasz Gop discusses the development of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and how design influenced engine building, the need for strong narrative vs. player freedom, and much more.
It sounds like there's a great deal of optional content in The Witcher 2. You've mentioned that people might not even encounter certain areas. There's a lot of expense in building optional content.
Tomasz Gop: There is, there is. Because with The Witcher 1, you had 80 or 90 hours of gameplay. You could do a lot of things, and a lot of that was about running around, because we had a lot of so-called "FedEx quests." So, with The Witcher 2, you definitely get less of these. So, you run less, but it doesn't mean locations are smaller.
It's like we don't have seven chapters anymore; we have five chapters. But we invested this work -- that type of development of the game -- into making it less linear. So, we have optional locations. We have really well-detailed characters that you don't meet within some of the playthroughs of the game, and so on.
There's a certain debate about how much optional content can be in a game and still make it economically viable.
TG: You have to weigh it. You always have to. On one hand, you have to make sure that you have really cool content for people that want to dig deep into it -- but not everybody will. So, we also have to make sure that each single playthrough of the game, even though some things are optional, will be cool, and it will have a fun factor. Yeah, it's not easy.
What sort of value do you think that brings to your audience, that value of optional content?
TG: I mean, I think the main difference between reading an actual book... for example, a book that Andrzej Sapkowski wrote, the author of the previous stories, and actually playing a game, is the interaction.
So, the game is always allowing you to do more than you actually follow by reading the books. So, it's the same with enhancing on it and making the game less linear. So, the main value that we've added is... we wanted the players to feel as if they tell their own story.
It was also one of the reasons we [integrated] this social media stuff, because it actually will feel different for most of the players to walk differently through the game. So, we think it has a value of its own.
You have to look at it in terms of cost/benefit. You know, you have to ultimately to some extent as a business.
TG: We definitely do, yeah.
When players encounter each other, talk about the game...
TG: They get back to the game.
... and people see that conversation happening. That creates word of mouth.
TG: We hope for that. We do, definitely.
There are 16 different endings, which is rather a lot.
TG: It is. I mean, it's more perceived as 16 different states of the world, and not all factors that shape this final state of the world are really, really huge. But if you were to count everything, there are around 16 endings.
Given that there's a lot of potential variation, how much do you handle that dynamically or procedurally? You did some of that in the first game.
TG: Yeah. Obviously, some of the cutscenes were, say, dynamic depending on who you were with and so on. It was procedural. So, it's been extended in the second game, definitely. And it's one of the advantages we get with having our own tech. Because the game looks different in terms of graphics, but I always like to stress that the main reason for writing the tech was doing the tools that allow us to go further with thinking about factors that can actually differentiate the storyline.
They can branch the way we tell a story. We have dozens of tools for scripting the storyline, for doing it like blocks, logical blocks that can actually vary in different places. I think it's really where we can stand out among all the competition to tell the story in our own way. We don't actually like to look back at other RPGs. If we have to, we do, but it's not about comparing. It's more about we always knew what we wanted to do. We just continued doing it.