While we were at Gamescom a few weeks back, we got to check out The Witcher 3. We also managed to pin down Michal Stec, the game’s art producer, who was kind enough to answer a whole lot questions.
Here’s the thing: we did something a little different in this interview. Those of you who were paying attention on NAG’s Twitter, Facebook and Forum pages will have seen a call for reader questions. We went into this interview armed with the best questions that you lovely lot wanted answers to.
Some of your questions were a little tricky, so the ones that Michal wasn’t able to answer have been left out of this transcript. There are, however, a lot of interesting snippets of information to be found, including some odds and sods that haven’t been covered anywhere else online. Exclusives!
Grab some coffee/tea/whiskey/battery acid and settle in for a good old morning read, because nothing says procrastination quite like spending your Friday reading about video games.
NAG: We wanted to do something different with this interview. There’s a heck of a lot of excitement from our readers regarding The Witcher 3, so what we did is we got onto our Facebook, we got onto our Twitter account, and we asked our readers to send in questions.
MS: Awesome! That’s great!
NAG: So, we have about fourteen questions; some of them are crazy!
MS: Bring them on…
NAG: OK, so one of our forumites called AlmostAHero asks: will the endings from the previous games have any sort of impact on the events of The Witcher 3?
MS: Yes, they will have an impact. For PC you can just import your save game if you still have it. And that’s it; it will notice all of the stuff you did in The Witcher 2 and it will remember that. We still don’t know for the consoles, because it’s harder thanks to the next generation hardware transition. But we will ask you questions; you might not even notice [the questions] – it’ll be a gameplay sort of thing.
NAG: OK, so there will be a method of getting the decisions made for those who didn’t play the previous game?
MS: Yes, so it will impact the story, but it’s not major stuff. So you don’t have to play The Witcher 1 or 2, and you don’t need to know those [events] to play The Witcher 3.
NAG: Alright, well that’s actually answered a different question that was coming up later so that’s great. Next there’s a reader called Matthew Fiber, and he asks: has console development influenced the PC version at all, and how have you ensured PC players can go above consoles due to better hardware?
MS: So there will be a difference between the PC and consoles; that’s always the case. Also there are some features that are provided by hardware manufacturers that allow us to make stuff on PC. But at the moment we are super-focused on delivering the same quality for all the platforms.
NAG: Can you talk about any of the graphics card manufacturers’ special features that are included?
MS: We are working with Nvidia on the fur for animals and for monsters, but it’s still in the process of development.
NAG: So then Mathew Fiber sneaks in another question: how closely will models of characters compare visually to those from previous games, with specific reference to the monsters?
MS: The monsters that we had in The Witcher 2 stay pretty much the same – I mean you’ll recognise them without any problems.
NAG: Yeah we spotted the Drowners a mile away during the presentation.
MS: Exactly. But we improved their quality through the textures and polygons, and we also added some physics to them. So we have extra hair physics and tessellation, and we have some dangling objects added so, ummm, it’s upgraded!
NAG: Alright, next up we have a forum user called Squirly, and Squirly asks: where do you guys take your inspirations for armour designs?
MS: From history… there are a lot of historical elements, but also film, photography and a lot of paintings. It’s quite a mixture, but we have very talented concept artists working for the studio, and they’ve done hundreds and hundreds of drawings. We then iterate on the best of them, and then we iterate AGAIN on the best of them! [laughs] And then we finalise the armour sets. Also we have armour that is specific to different styles or schools of the Witchers, and some are a little animal oriented. So we try to get those animal elements.
NAG: He also asks: how do you balance functionality versus the armour just looking cool?
MS: So every time we design something we remember that we want to keep the world believable. There are some fantasy elements in games that are, I don’t know, you see things like bikini armour and you’re like, “hey, that doesn’t make any sense,” so we think about this, and every time we design something we remember that. It’s just common sense you know? You wouldn’t design huge arm protection pieces because it’d just be too heavy. So I think it comes from history and real experience – it was made for people to fight in.
NAG: Then finally he asks: has there ever been a case where the design was hopelessly inappropriate with regard to the lore of the game? So do you have any examples during development when the design guys created something and you all looked at it and thought, “no, this just doesn’t work at all with the lore.”
MS: Yeah that happens a lot, but at this stage of development that doesn’t happen anymore. But in the beginning that’s a natural process; there are some ideas that are good and there are some that are bad, and then there are some that are very bad! We are quite strict about our quality and our atmosphere for the game. So we are very straight in giving feedback to artists. So if something is bad, they know about it. We’re like, “man, this is bad because of this, this, and THIS. Redo it!” So there are many situations like this and I think that is natural and that’s good.
NAG: Alright, then we have a reader on Facebook called Charl du Preez and he asks: will you still be able to play dice poker?
MS: I don’t think so. We still have the fist-fighting mini game, which doesn’t have QTEs in it anymore; it’s all tactical. We also have boat racing and horse racing. We also have another game that’s a card game. It’s a collectable card game that’s inside the game, and that will replace the dice poker.
NAG: A collectable card game within the game? So you’ll find cards around the world, and then build a deck to play the game?
MS: Yes! Something like that, but I can’t tell you much more than that!
NAG: Next question is from Leto du Plessis who asks whether there is any online component at all?
MS: There is no online component at all except for sharing the content you create in the game; things like videos and the like. Other than that, no: it’s a story-based role-playing game so you play as Geralt of Rivia, so it’d be super hard to add any multiplayer element to it.
NAG: Lyle Arend wants to know if there’ll be any Easter eggs.
MS: Oh yeah! We already have some of them in there.
NAG: How do you balance that though, because the world of The Witcher is kind of a serious, dark world, but Easter eggs are often humorous?
MS: Did you like the Easter eggs in The Witcher 2? How do we balance it? It’s just a process. We get testers playing the game all the time, so if we get feedback from them saying that, “oh I found this and it’s not funny,” then we remove it. But sometimes the feedback is good and so we keep it. It’s quite natural.
NAG: Benjamin Rheeder asks whether CD Projekt has ever considered doing a Remastered Witcher 1 and 2 for next-gen consoles?
MS: I don’t know anything about that. I think it could be a good idea; it’d be nice because I’d like to replay The Witcher 1 especially, but I don’t know anything about that.
NAG: Then Wayne Lubuschagne throws in this random question: what do you feed a baby squid?
MS: What do you feed a baby squid? Ummmm, I think the baby squid is food! [Laughs]
NAG: Garth Ramsey wants to know: are there any major changes to gameplay?
MS: Oh yeah, so the whole game has changed a lot. We now have open world environments and freedom to go anywhere you want. So there are many gameplay mechanics that allow you to do that: like horse riding, sailing, swimming, diving, and climbing. So these are the basics for exploration. We changed the combat a lot; it’s much more sensitive now. It’s more tactical; there’s less hack-and-slash, rolling back and hitting. Now every time you press a button there is a separate hit. We added variations of Signs, so every Sign has two versions. We’ve changed the potion mechanic as well, so yes! Lots of changes!
NAG: A guy called Liam Burgess wants to know: how much will Yeneffer affect the story of The Witcher 3, and will that love triangle between Yeneffer, Triss and Geralt still be part of the game?
MS: So yeah, they’re all present in the game, so it is possible. She [Yeneffer] will affect the game a lot; she is a very important character for Geralt, even in the books. So yes, she has potential to affect the gameplay and there will be interaction between her and Geralt. It’s still there and we have very strong female characters in the game – they all influence the story.
NAG: Then the last question from Ruan West you actually answered earlier, so we just have one question from the demo we just watched. We noticed that the HUD now displays monster names on the top right-hand corner. Those names change from time-to-time. What’s that for?
MS: So we have a 24 hour day cycle in the game; it’s something I’m really proud of as the environment art producer. We also have weather changes. So monster activity is different during different times of the day, so werewolves as you saw in the demo, came out at night and the name appeared there [on the HUD] at night. Werewolves are stronger at night and can morph into a bigger, stronger version of werewolf. You can affect that by using the Silver Bomb like you saw in the demo – it stops him from morphing anymore and stops him regenerating health. So you have to learn your opponents and know what their strong sides and weak sides are, and then approach them at specific times. So it is better to fight werewolves during the day.
NAG: Alright so basically it’s like a tip about which monster will be most active at that particular time in that particular area of the world? So that will change as you move from area to area?
MS: Yes. It tells you the state of the immediate environment, and if you’ve already learnt about the monster, it’ll tell you what their status is.
NAG: Finally, we just have a comment based on what we’ve just seen in the demo: those three witches are the end of the gameplay sequence were just incredible in terms of character design. Can you talk us through the process of finalising those three characters? There must have been a ton of planning and references.
MS: Those characters were first written; the writers wrote the quest story, the quest designers then designed the quest for it. Those characters [the three witches] were described by the writers, so they all have something specific about
them. One of them is The Whisperer, which is the one with all of the ears on her necklace. She collects ears. There were lots of drawings… lots of drawings! So again: talented artists coming up with ideas. We also always think about making monsters different from each other, so it’s easy for the player to understand that this one is the witch of that, and this one is the witch of something else, and so on. Those three witches are actually my favourite creatures in the game.
NAG: Your favourite in the game? So how many monster types are there?
MS: I can’t remember the exact number, but there are a lot. Every monster has its own variation because they can morph into bigger versions. So we have morphing in The Wild Hunt and it’s a really cool feature.
NAG: So as the art producer for the game, what has been your most enjoyable part of creating this game?
MS: The open and living world aspects, and the day cycle and weather system. It’s great when you’re riding a horse by a cliff near the ocean and you can see a storm coming far away with black clouds and blizzards. You know that something is happening; the world is alive because other characters are running and escaping to their homes and taking their animals back to the village. So it’s a completely dynamic weather system. Every time I see testers playing the game, and they’re climbing to the top of mountains just to look around, that for me is it! That’s it! We made it!
NAG: Thank you so much for your time!
MS: Thank you.