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When I spoke to you about the enhanced version of the original Witcher, you said that a lot of the enhancements you made came out of community response.
TG: Most of it, yeah.
So, you know you have a strong community, and obviously you found a lot of success outside of Poland with the first game that maybe wasn't anticipated. But now it's anticipated, right?
TG: [laughs] I hope.
So, the point is you know you have this global audience that's paying attention and feeding back. So, how did that affect the design? You started ground-up this time, knowing that you had this community.
TG: I think the key feature and the key point here, is we started on the right foot. What we did with The Witcher 1 is... It was like, "Okay, we know the books. We know who Andrzej Sapkowski is, so we know it's going to work perfectly with a game. But there is a whole world out there who doesn't give a crap who Andrzej Sapkowski is. They don't know who this guy is. Okay, so, please, please, let's not forget about that -- let's make a game that actually will be cool either way."
And yes, since we made it, because of the awards we got, I have a tendency to believe that we made it. So, doing just the same will probably work again, because it's just going to be a cool RPG. I mean, everyone who read the books will get these rewards. He will get rewarded by seeing these tastes, and small things that refer to the books. But if you haven't, you won't feel lost. We have to remember this every day, and we do. I think this is the formula that makes the game universal.
But in specific ways, have you incorporated design choices or changed things fundamentally, in terms of the way this game plays compared to the first one, based on audience reaction?
TG: Oh yeah, definitely. The case with The Witcher 1: Enhanced Edition was you always... I probably have even repeated it to you, because I repeat it always. You always work on a game for like three years, and by the end of that process, you think you see everything. But then like a million people start playing it, and the feedback you get is like thousands of comments on things that you wouldn't think about, and they are reasonable.
So, we got the idea that we had to re-implement some of the things in The Witcher, and we did the Enhanced Edition. And a lot of that was also based for redesigning things for The Witcher 2. We were not able to totally redesign combat in The Witcher 1, but since we have the new tech, the new game, and a totally new product, we redesigned it completely.
It's actually quite an interesting case, because the reactions on combat in The Witcher 1 were dual. Some of the people liked it -- mostly hardcore players -- and some others said, "Okay, you've got a cool story, but combat is only for hardcore players. Don't burden me with that."
Because taking that feedback seriously and doing something about it wasn't easy, so, what we've done is we've implemented the easy difficulty setting in The Witcher 2, which allows you to swipe really easily through the combat. Everything is pretty much optional. But on higher ones, you get at least as much depth as you had [in the first game]. And enhancing on it, we even have the insane difficulty setting unlockable later on when you finish the game. So, yeah.
I spoke to BioWare about Mass Effect 2, and obviously there was a big difference between Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2. They sat down and actually filtered community response and made a formal document and picked out what was most needed to be addressed. Did you have that kind of process?
TG: It's tough to say. The way we approach it is, we always have a community manager, at least one person, full-time employed at CD Projekt Red. So, gathering that feedback is like taking the things that that person already knows because it's been there for years, and she knows the constant feedback from the people, and constituting it.
And, yes, there's been a list of the things that we've done. Firstly, the community-related person had to prioritize them, and then developers sit down with it. They also make their own ideas, put it on a list, give it weight, and so on and so on. And we all ended up with 20 or 30 major changes, and all others were addressed in probably a smaller way because, as you said, people, time, money, you know, all comes into play.
There's always a sort of tension, particularly in Western-developed RPGs, I think, where the tension between creating a story that has an authorial hand and having a defined character, and then offering up freedom. You're based on a novel series, so you have some elements of that. You have a defined main character. It's not create-a-character, but you do offer freedom.
TG: Yeah, we do.
That's an interesting creative tension.
TG: I don't know if it actually is a tension. It's like the game that we always wanted to do was about stories. I don't know if you know this, but we spent a lot of time, way before we did The Witcher 1, choosing the main hero. After being really inspired about doing the books, we were thinking about doing the game about some other Witcher, not exactly the same guy, so we took like a year and a half designing his look, designing his gameplay features, and so on and so on and so on.
And after that, it was like a week when we tried to prototype things, we had seen it, we had thought about it. "No, it has to be Geralt. Sorry." If you want to have a character that's cool to play, it has to be this guy. It all changed within days. I don't think it's a problem, because if you think about it and if you weigh everything, you have a really solid hero where you can create personality, and still be able to give a lot of freedom to players.
Well, it's interesting because there's also the audience. People have different feelings about that. I personally like defined characters and defined scenarios. Some people want to see themselves as the character. Some people want to inhabit another character. Some people just want to hear a story.
TG: Yeah, but it's just a matter of, where do you invest your work? We invest lots of it in the story. Other people have to share, split it between character and story, and that's okay as well. It's just, you know, we have to make sure the story is good enough to draw everybody.