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Interview: CD Projekt RED on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

by on July 1, 2013

We were lucky enough to meet up with CD Projekt RED whilst at E3, and even luckier to have a chat with John Mamais, Executive Producer on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, here’s what he had to say.

So, we heard that there’s a new engine this time around. What are the advantages to it from a developer standpoint and what lessons from Witcher 2 are going into Witcher 3?

The cool thing about Red Engine 3 is the fact that we have two teams on the side working on the same technology, so with in-house tech like this, we only have to keep updating it to fit whatever the artists, designers, and engineers need. When you try to license an engine, it’s a lot slower because you try working with an established set of tools, and when you need something done specific to your project, you have to work alongside a different set of engineers. You get thrown into a queue and it’s just more complicated than we’d like, so it’s just great having our own in house tech.

The most common things that I’ve seen so far, in regards to what fans want in Witcher 3, seems to be returning characters; something that wasn’t necessarily present in the jump from the first to second game.

Well, it’s a great question, and I can’t be too specific because I don’t want to spoil anything, but the idea was to close a lot of open plot lines. Mostly, there were Witcher 2 plot lines that had not been closed off at all that we’d like to address.

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The Witcher came from a relatively small team, considering the scope of the project. How big has the team gotten?

It’s about 150, currently.

With plans for expansion?

No, we’re going to keep it about 150. Maybe we’ll go up to 200, maximum. But right now, 150 is a pretty good number for us. We manage to get things done with it, and that partially comes back to the engine. We’re just beefing up the tools and we’ve got really experienced artists. Those guys know what they’re doing. We’re using a lot of really interesting tools, too, to help speed things up. We can take assets from Witcher 2 and just res them up and make them look better. We can take character assets and res them up, also. There’s just a shit load of new content we’re building and it takes a lot of time and effort, but luckily, we’ve got such a good team.

One of the things appreciated about Witcher 2 was the continued support and free DLC. Even the developer unboxing videos seemed to demonstrate a philosophical belief in getting as much for your money as possible; getting some cool things to do outside of the game as well. What can we expect this time around, in terms of that philosophy?

There are definitely going to be collector’s editions. The guys who founded the company, they came from game distribution in Eastern Europe. They somehow figured out that the best way to fight piracy was to make people want to buy the game. People will go out to buy cool shit, and if you put that in the box, it adds a lot of value to the game. So, that’s how we fight piracy, because we’re incredibly anti-DRM.

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Dark Mode (a very, very difficult mode) was something that showed up in Witcher 2. Are we going to see anything like that in Witcher 3?

I haven’t seen anything like that in the design documents yet. Dark Mode was just a cool way for us to update the game. Designers are always really creative. They think of ways to stretch the game as much as they can. With 150 people, we have to be as clever as we can be. Dark Mode, honestly, wasn’t that hard to make but it was a really cool idea. So, no. No plans for it right now, but maybe.

Modes like that tend to lend themselves to online streaming, an area of gaming that Sony and Microsoft seem keen to incorporate into their next gen strategy.

Yeah, players like to see if they can survive against those kind of odds. Dark Mode was just really fucking hard, so we’re going to have a really fucking hard mode in this game, too.

That going to be the official title?

(laughter) RFH mode? If we don’t tell anybody what it means, who knows? We do like Dark Souls, though, and it did have an influence on us. It kicked my ass, anyway, so we do want this game to have a really hard mode. And even after release, we can always make it harder. That’s the really cool thing about Microsoft’s stuff. There’s this telemetry feature that they’re building where you can store all this data on the cloud. We can see how the players are playing through the game. If we can see if it’s too easy or too hard, we can take measures to balance things on the fly. We don’t know if we’ll do that as a requirement, because it could change the experience so much. But as an optional update? Yeah, it’s something we’re considering. It’s a new age and there is so much new tech, we’re excited to see what we can do with it.

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Ever any plans for Co-Op? It’s sort of an obligatory question at this point.

We always talked about co-op but it doesn’t really fit into the Witcher franchise, so we’re not going to do it. I think open world was enough for us to figure out for us how to do. To add co-op might be biting off a bit too much.

The resolution of Witcher 2 seemed to not take your personal choices throughout the game into account all that much. Is that something that will change with Witcher 3?

It’s going to be different this time. I looked at the branching for the story, and it starts breaking off very early in the game and keeps breaking apart from there. It gets to the point where it’s hard to visualize, but there’s something like 36 different states for the game to finish in. We can’t do 36 different cut scenes, necessarily, but we will figure out something; you’ll know the conditions of what happens in the story upon finishing the game and it’ll be unique to your play through. Possibly in storyboard style. We’ll see, though.

The Witcher 2 came at you rather unapologetically, and had sort of a wonky difficulty curve to it. Is there going to be a more natural introduction to the combat in this game?

The Witcher 2 was sometimes a result of a sort of experimental thinking and, honestly, it didn’t always work. So this time, it’s going to be a normal difficulty curve, which is what people need. And that will change from mode to mode.

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Can you carry your save data through to this title?

Yeah, we’re doing that, at least on PC. We need to talk to Microsoft to see if we can make it work between 360 and the Xbox One, but it could work. We’re talking to our tech contact and it’s kind of an open question right now. Now, for PS4, it’s seeming impossible but we might be doing a Q and A type thing like they did with Mass Effect. We’d like some way to establish a starting point for the character on that console. It’s important to us, because you need that continuity. People get attached to their character, so we’ll do what we can. I promise.

Are you bringing lore from things outside the books?

Yeah, definitely. We’ve got Celtic lore. There’s Germanic, Slavic and Nordic lore, too. Then on top of that, there’s new stuff that we’ve created. It’s this big amalgamation. It’s a fantasy universe but it’s based on on world in a way. I guess like Tolkien kind of did with Middle Earth, because, well, he’s the man.

Thanks to Emmanuel Ray for assisting with the interview. Read our hands-off preview with the game from E3, here.