I'm interested in the process of devising multiple feasible options. Like you said, it's not about providing like a Light choice and a Dark choice, it's about providing two viable choices that both seem like something the character might do. And that's a whole layer of subtlety beyond.
MZ: Yeah, that's very hard work, actually.
Is there someone who oversees everything, story-wise?
MZ: There is. [Lead story and dialogue designer] Sebastian [Stępień], definitely. I think the story lead is one of the guys who knows everything about the storyline in the game. He works with all the other story designers.
MS: And there is Mateusz [Kanik] on the quest team, who oversees the questing. So basically they talk a lot to each other to make it coherent.
MZ: It's their responsibility to make sure that the game is coherent, yeah.
If it all relates to like what Geralt would do, do you have a bible, a wiki?
MS: We have people that are really hardcore fans of Sapkowski.
MZ: Yeah, but the books are our bible. If there is a situation in a game that we could, well maybe not copy, because obviously we have a different storyline, but that's similar to the situation from the books we would definitely try to compare them, and try to figure out why it was designed this way. So the books are our bible.
That's interesting, and I can see what the advantage would be there. But you are defining your own story. So you don't follow the story the books unfold.
MZ: No. It's totally our story. But it goes well with the story defined in the books. I remember hearing this quite often whenever we were thinking about new solutions, or something. Sometimes someone says something like, "That would never happen in the books," or, "That's not coherent with the world from the books," and that's like the...
MS: Final argument.
MZ: Yeah, final argument. It's cutting the feature. We can't allow our game to go too far from the world described in the book.
MS: We just cannot go against our lore.
That's kind of fascinating because I think that in fiction, it's hard for people to stay true to things, when it would be so much easier as a writer to just go, "Oh yeah, I could just make this happen, and it'd be so convenient!" We see this all the time in movies with deus ex machina, or you see characters doing things that get the story from point A to point B rather than what the character would actually do.
MZ: And see, I think I can see a connection between what you just said, and between playing games without a defined character. I tried it myself many times. I'm like, "Okay, this time I'm playing a real badass."
MS: And trying to define yourself.
MZ: Yeah. In an open world game... I've created my character and stuff, but nothing forces me to be this badass all the time, so I keep on losing those emotions, or sometimes I make the choices that are not true to what I was trying to play at the very beginning of the game. And then, sometimes for me, it gets tasteless, because I'm spoiling my own game. I'm not trying to be coherent to my…
MS: You just sometimes make easier choices.
MZ: Yes, easier choices. In The Witcher, when you have a defined character, it just happens for you. You know you don't want to go somewhere. You see there's trouble, but it's Geralt, and he's going to go there. You have to do it. You can't say, "next time." No, it's him. So sometimes he's grabbing the story and trying to push it a little bit further.
We all play games and we all know this, but I think a lot of times developers don't face up to the fact that if you can ruin the game for yourself, even if you know you're ruining your own game by doing something cheesy or cheap.
MS: You'll still ruin it.
You'll do it because it's the path of least resistance, as a player.
MZ: It's like cheats, sometimes.
Cheats, or if you know a game has a deep combat system but just mashing X works, you're just going to keep mashing X.
MS: Because it requires less effort from you, and we are lazy bastards, as people.
MZ: Spoiling the system is also part of the fun.
MS: Sometimes, yes.
MZ: But when you already discover how to break the system, it stops being that interesting, I guess.
So it seems to me that somehow you're suggesting that having a character with a strong identity helps paper in the cracks of where people might want to deviate from?
MZ: I think it does, somehow.
MS: It also does.
A lot of the fantasy games just seem very bland, whereas if you read some of the darker, interesting fantasy novels, they come to life. I think some of the dark fantasy stuff that's come out recently in games has been a little bit self-consciously like, "This is so badass!"
MS: We're not trying to be too dark or too awesome, or something, or too epic, for example. We're just trying to be true.
MZ: We learned quite early that sure, we need a brutal combat system -- blood, monsters and stuff like this. But we learned that that's not what makes the game dark or shady. That's just there. That's brutality, and everyone is used to it already. Whenever you see a head popping off a character, it's not that bad anymore, because it's everywhere. We're trying to have some different tools to create this feeling of a shady world.
And the tools are narrative-driven.
MZ: Yes, mostly. And your decisions -- but your decisions are also connected to the storyline, so yeah.
MS: The darkness is just like pepper, right? You just should add a bit. If you overdose, your dish will be without flavor. You'll just feel bad.