Two weeks ago we attended Comic-Con International in San Diego, CA and were given the honor to be among a chosen few press members to join developers of CD Projekt Red, one of creators for the comic book by Dark Horse Comics, and even Doug Cockle — the voice of Geralt — for interviews in regards to the upcoming blockbuster, The Witcher 3.
Our first interviewees were Nick McWhorter, Vice President of Media Licensing at Dark Horse Comics, and Damien Monnier, Senior Gameplay Designer. Note that the questions asked are comprised from our group.
How has development changed based on the previous games?
[Monnier] Basically, we always listen to the fans as they post online or send us emails. We have a policy to always reply to all emails we receive and we always take the feedback into account. We had this lady, who has bad hearing, who spoke with me at E3 and she said she really liked what we were doing with the presentation. In the preview, we showed you walking into a crowd and you also see what the people are saying with a separated text, and she said it’s the first time ever she can really feel the crowd. So we definitely look to the fans to come up with ideas to put into the game.
With games like Bloodborne and Dark Souls that are super hardcore — and Witcher has that reputation as well — how do you balance it to keep it accessible enough that a lot of people will enjoy the game whilst still making it hardcore?
We have different difficulty levels. If, for example, we take a monster like the werewolf, his strength might be low but it has a special ability to call other wolves; sometimes it can call on three to help or one or not very often. Every monster has its own difficulty level that is tweaked, so that it’s still challenging and you know you’d need to be careful. You need to understand how that monster will attack you but slightly easier, and we can have it be very difficult.
Do you feel the Witcher will continue to expand after the next trade paperback and how has the response been so far”
[McWhorter] We’re certainly looking for more ways to tell the Witcher story, because it originated in novels it is a great world for storytelling. So many things you can explore as far as things Geralt does you don’t see in the games, so we’re certainly talking about new and future projects and the response from the fans have been excellent; it has gotten very strong reviews from the press, a lot of people really love it. The great thing about doing licensed comics based on games is you get all the hardcore fans who have played the games then you get people who have never maybe played the games before, they look it as its own standalone story then those people carry on and go pick up the games.
As this is bringing the series to a conclusion with the games for Geralt, will there be other opportunities with the comics or the game that may explore other protagonists?
[Monnier] Right now we’re so focused on Witcher that we haven’t thought about it, but it’s always a possibility.
[McWhorter] Right now the focus is on Geralt as the hero essentially since that’s the focus of the game that’s the hero that resonates with the fans, but there’s been many different Witchers in many different eras, it really depends story wise on what CD Projekt Red wants to explore and how we can help compliment that.
Can you talk a little about the process of development? The first Witcher is PC focused and you have to use a keyboard and mouse to play, but The Wticher 2 came to consoles, now The Witcher 3 is releasing on almost all platforms simultaneously; can you talk about any gameplay changes thanks to the evolution of the game that you see as the biggest difference?
[Monnier] There’s not a lot to be honest with you. The big jump was from Witcher 2 to the console, by now we know what we’re doing, so honestly it was real easy.
We then got a new group of people to talk to: Rafal Jaki, Business Development Manager, Michal Platkow Gilewski, Head of Marketing and Doug Cockle, voice of Geralt.
Being completely new to the series, when I go into a series and its midpoint I also go back to the back catalog whether it be video games or comics books. You guys have written the story in Witcher 3 to be self contained so you don’t have to play the first two. Are you prepared for people to want to go see the first two games and will you anticipate that and do anything for that?
[Gilewski] Actually it’s already happened. Witcher 1 and 2 are still selling really great and keep in mind Witcher 1 is quite an old game and Witcher 2 is not that young either, so it still performs really well. There’s a huge amount of fans coming to the franchise that are maybe buying silver box on 360 or picking it up on Steam for the first time.
We’d love for people to pick up Witcher 1 and Witcher 2; we still think Witcher 1 is a great game and Witcher 2 is really really good so there’s still good games you should play if you want to.
[Jaki] We are doing something special for newcomers and fans at the same time; it’s the World of the Witcher which is comprehensive lore book about everything. So if you’ve just scratch the surface with the Witcher and need a strong introduction to the world, so it’s prefect for newcomers and fans.
A question that’s on a lot of fans mind is if you would be interested in revisiting Witcher 1 on consoles, if you did do you have the means or license?
[Gilewski] We would love to but we have to be very focused on The Witcher 3. It’s a huge endeavor and the biggest game we’ve ever done. Honestly speaking, we haven’t been working on the original Witcher for twelve years. If we had to tell our team that now we’re working on it for PS4 or Xbox One with revamped graphics and that they’d have to work on that for two years to make it happen, they wouldn’t be very entertained because they want to go forward. We all do.
As you may recall it took us one year to get The Witcher 2 onto Xbox 360 and it may seem easy but it takes company effort: artists, programmers, everyone to actually make that a really good experience, and we don’t want a mediocre port.
Was there anything from the first two games that wasn’t feasible that you really wanted to do, but couldn’t accomplish, but made sure was in Witcher 3?
[Gilewski] Jumping *laughs*. Horse riding, since they play a vital part in Geralt’s story. Making it an open world, which we had planned since Witcher 1, but wasn’t possible with the theme that we had or the technical point of view, and this time around we have a great point in time with really powerful next gen consoles and with the ability to build you own PC, we’ve found it easier to do it that way.
Were any of you already fans of the original source material prior to getting the chance to make a game based on it, or was it unknown to you until then?
[Gilewski] I’ve played the games, but I haven’t read the books until after, so now I’ve read them.
[Jaki] For me it was book number 2 or 3 before I got called on.
[Doug] I never knew Sapkowski until I started doing Witcher 1, and it was only when they got translated into English that I was able to read the books. It was fantastic because I remember so many aspects of the games from the books. As you know the games don’t follow the book’s storyline directly, but it’s influenced by the story.
Did reading the books help you with developing the character of Geralt in the games?
It helped me in terms of understanding where the character in the game can come from. I knew a lot of the names and the Witcher world from doing the voice over, but going back to the book, it’s just a really good read. All four of them are good books, so it was nice to have that kind of experience with the characters and the world.
And when you read the books do you read in your mind aloud in Geralt’s voice?
*Laughs* I do actually! I can’t help it, but I also do the other actor’s voice for the other characters, so I hear the voices of the game in my head and see them while I read, which kind of ruins it in someway. When you read a book you have your own imagination of who these people are.
How involved is the author, I’ve always been curious about that.
[Gilewski] He approaches the games in a way he says “you guys know what you’re doing.” You’re doing good that’s what I’ve heard, “I’m not a gamer.” He’s a guy that’s very rooted in the Witchers, being the original author and all and he trusted us with his baby but from his stand of point he’s quite accurate, this is an interpretation of what he’s done originally, and to that extant he doesn’t want to mix the original interpretation because he is the author of the original story. As long as we’re not bringing shame to his name with this series, it’s all good.
So that’s that; hopefully it proved enlightening on the process for producing the series. Keep an eye out for future news for the Witcher 3, set to release in 2015 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.