That tension can really exist in the RPG genre, I think, in particular, because the story can be so heavy and the gameplay can be so abstracted, very often. Do you feel it's important to give deep system-level gameplay, in an RPG?
MS: They are important, but not for all types of players, I think. This is my personal opinion. So it's very good to have them, but it's also very wise to let players kind of skip them, or just play with them just a bit, and we do it in The Witcher. You can choose different difficulty levels, basically. So it's obvious; it's common.
MZ: Yeah, so if you had chosen the easy one, you could only have fun.
MS: Enjoy the story.
MZ: Enjoy the story, exactly.
MS: And don't bother with developing your character.
MZ: But if you've chosen normal or hard, you would have to be really good in fighting, and developing your character, and stuff.
MS: So this is our way. It's a common way, but it's proven to work.
Games have been criticized for generally not having the depth of story of a novel. Do you feel like you've gotten to the point where you have as much depth as the original novels? Or do you feel like you have a way to go in terms of…
MS: I think we're very close, and we want to push it even further with our new games, so I hope we'll eventually get there.
MZ: Yes, I totally agree.
Is it a matter of presentation, or is it a matter of the actual design of the way you tell the story?
MS: I think both. We use very intense visuals -- we use a lot of cutscenes, things like that, so we are really very intense in that one. So the presentation is very important for us. We want to be as close to movies, films, as we can get.
But the design of the stories are also very, very, very important -- because if you can spot any not coherent solutions, something that stays out and doesn't sit to the actual story, you lose immersion.
MZ: But games are also a totally, of course, unique type of media, right? The interaction with the player, the possibility that the player has the power to create his own story often, or at least has some impact on what's going on in the game's world.
And I think the true art, or challenge, is to give players freedom on one hand, but on the other hand limit their possibilities so that they won't break their own immersion. So that's something we're constantly trying to polish -- not to limit the players too much, but on the other hand, not to give them total freedom, because that will just spoil the plot. It's very hard to have a story-intense sandbox, I think.
Your game has a strong lead character. A lot of RPGs don't, right? They have a create-a-character -- something like Skyrim, for example. Do you think that this is crucial to having a story? And also, what does it do to the player to have a defined character rather than their own?
MS: I think it helps to build a more interesting story, because you have a defined character, so you don't prepare the storyline for just any type of character.
MZ: They're custom, they're precise, they're hitting your character -- your player -- directly. That's fairly cool.
MS: For example with NPCs, this is an obvious thing, but NPCs can relate to your character and they know him, things like that. So I think that it helps to build the story base.
MZ: But it's of course just one of the approaches, because for example Skyrim, right, they have a totally different approach.
MS: It's also a cool game.
MZ: I wouldn't definitely call our approach better. I think it's just different. I enjoyed Skyrim a lot and sometimes I just want to -- bang! -- go into this huge world, create my character, and play with it a little bit.
MS: Just have fun.
MZ: Yeah, just have fun. And I think it's a bit different experience than playing The Witcher, which is really story-intense and you've got your character. You cannot change it too much.
MS: It's actually story-driven.
MZ: Yeah, it's a different approach.
Does the person who's playing a game think of the person they're controlling as themselves, or do they think of it as that character? Or where is that line? Have you thought about that line?
MS: Yeah. I think that you have to like the character you're playing. Obviously if you cannot feel the same emotions as the character, you will lose, I think. But in our opinion, Geralt is a very strong guy and he's quite unique, and you will like him for sure. A lot of people would like to be like him in some situations, right? So that helps, and I think that kind of answers your question.
There was a lot of talk earlier in this generation of the idea of the characters in games being aspirational. They're someone who the player would want to be, but I don't really personally buy into that. There's a difference between empathy like you're talking about, and also wanting to be somebody, or idealizing someone.
MS: I think that this idol type of thing will not work. I think it's all about empathy, actually. It's similar to watching movies, right? If you can empathize with the main character, you will feel his emotions and you will be able to understand his motivations, and you'll be able to eventually understand the storyline, and you will be able to like it. And if you're not able to empathize with the main character, basically you're watching something.
MZ: I think the same thing happens in The Witcher. People often, when there's a situation where you chose something, people often ask themselves questions what would...
MS: ...Geralt do?
MZ: Yeah. What would go well with the type of character I'm actually playing, so what would Geralt do? And the thing we are really proud of is that some of the players say that he would probably choose this thing, and the others say he would choose the other thing. So we're delivering two choices.
MS: So they are defining the character. They are defining their own Geralt also.
MZ: Exactly. The problem is so deep and so... It's not blurred, but the solutions all go well with the type of character you're playing, and then the choice is really, really difficult.