The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt stands to be one of the first truly next gen titles. But what exactly does that mean?
In an exclusive interview with Examiner, Gameplay Designer Andrzej Kwiatkowski spoke with us about some of the features of CD Projekt RED’s upcoming title and explains why what they are doing wouldn’t have been possible on the last generation of consoles.
“I think we were most excited by the possibilities next-gen hardware has offered us.
“True, when we first got our hands on the consoles everything was new and we had to work extra hard to find optimal solutions, but we’re way past that and now we’re focused on how we can harness the power of the tech.”
While the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 lasted much longer and achieved more beautiful games than most thought they would, they have been limiting developers for quite some time.
“I mean, despite last-gen systems being pretty formidable, we’ve been limited by their computational power with regards to realizing our creative vision for some time now.”
It’s a huge weight off of CD Projekt RED’s back, freeing them to do what they want while cutting fewer corners.
“This has changed and we can do marvelous stuff, which you can see in the trailers we’ve released so far.”
We pressed Kwiatkowski for specifics as far as improvements go and he delivered saying, “Bigger levels, more detailed graphics, physics, superior lighting, more NPCs - you name it.”
“And we use all that to power the lives of hundreds of characters that constitute The Witcher 3’s story.
“In a nutshell, the more power you give us, the better we can use it to keep you in your seat with your eyes wide open.”
With this constant focus on expansion, even with better hardware, surely there has to be areas where the game needs to shrink? “No”, asserts Kwiatkowski, “We’re totally focused on expanding everything rather than slimming things down. Aside from quick-time events, we’ve tried to iterate and enhance almost everything to make it better than in the previous parts. Be it the combat mechanics, methods of travel or the gigantic world the game is set in.”
Part of the next generation experience is the inclusion of features such as the PlayStation 4’s touchpad and the Xbox One’s Cloud Computing. When pressed for answers as to if Wild Hunt will take advantage of such peripherals, Kwiatkowski offers very little with development still under way. “We’re still exploring various possibilities of utilizing the great features that next-gen consoles offer but, sadly, I can’t go into details at this moment.”
He did however, educate us on some of the things the studio has learned since the launch of The Witcher 2. “Oh, we’ve learned a lot and it would be really hard to name a particular thing that would answer the question. Being a game developer is like any other job (except it’s way better) - each day you learn something new that allows you to be better at what you do.
“We create something, then we look at it, then we optimize and think: ‘Damn, I could have done it like that from the start.’”
What CD Projekt RED has begun to master is the ability to write a story in such a way that those unfamiliar with the series are able to just pick up and play the title, while also providing enough references to the previous title for hardcore fans.
“Regarding [references to The Witcher 2], well, I’d have to go into the plot to give you a few examples and, sadly, I can’t right now.” Kwiatkowski continues, “For now, I can assure you that old-time fans will see a lot of winks in their direction.
“That obviously doesn’t mean that you won’t have fun if you decide to hop in and play The Witcher 3 without playing the previous parts - we’ve managed to drive the plot in such a way that first-time gamers will see The Witcher 3 as a standalone story and veterans will treat it as a natural continuation of what happened before.”
That being said, we shouldn’t expect any radical changes to Geralt’s personality. Despite the rising feature of being able to choose your sexual orientation, Projekt RED is working off an established fiction meaning as far as they’re concerned any change would violate that lore.
“We’re making a game for mature gamers so yes, sexual themes are present in the game,” says Kwiatkowski. “Regarding Geralt’s sexual preferences, we haven’t even thought about [him having a different orientation], to be honest.
“Geralt is a predefined character with a pretty well-described love life (read the books, you’ll know what I mean) so introducing homosexual relations would be going against the lore that’s been well established. His previous romantic involvements play a role in the main story, too.”
One thing that the studio is constantly improving is the combat system. “[Combat] in The Witcher 3 is very tactical and offers a whole lot in the strategy department.
“First of all, Geralt has two swords: a silver sword that is used to fight monsters and a steel one he uses to kill humans and animals. So, at the beginning of each fight, players have to determine what kind of enemy they are dealing with and select the proper tool for the job.”
More than anything, Projekt RED wants players to feel in control. Defeating a foe only to have it end in a quicktime event can be disappointing so for Wild Hunt, things will be different.
“Combat is very fluid and intuitive as one button press translates to a sword swing - this allows players to precisely time their strikes and devise tactics based on monster behavior. There are no QTEs in The Witcher 3, so we won’t interrupt skirmishes and it’s always you who’ll deliver the final blow.”
This will be especially evident when it comes to the new reemphasized hunting system. Kwiatkowski tells us that they are returning to Geralt’s roots this time around.
“Geralt is a witcher, and witchers are elite monster hunters. Witchers do not hunt for food, so we’re not talking fishing but rather a sword-for-hire kind of thing. In the third part of The Witcher we wanted to get back to the roots of the profession, so hunting monsters will play a much bigger role than in the previous parts.
“The monster-hunting quest mechanic is something we’re really proud of.”
Rather than the simply finding a creature, killing it, and reaping the rewards Kwiatkowski explains the more in depth process.
“As you know, the world of The Witcher is filled with different creatures, some of them being really dangerous and in a totally different league than most warriors that would want to challenge them. Geralt can find these monsters on his own or get contracted to kill them by other characters.
“Each monster has its own story that enroots it in the environment it lives in, and some are even worshiped as local deities. If you find such a monster, the first thing you need to do is to determine what kind of beast it is. Then, after carefully examining it, its habits and so on, you determine its weak points. Finally, you go for the kill and collect your prize.”
Because this process is one that actually requires thought and investigation, Projekt RED believes that players will feel more fulfilled at the end of a hunt.
One thing that is set in stone, however, is the lack of navel travel. “We’re still working on that aspect of the game, so the only thing I can tell you at this point is that boats in the game will be primarily used to travel and not [for] fighting,” he clarifies.
If your Xbox One’s hard drive is already filling up, the studio cannot yet offer an estimate as to the size of the install. “I can’t answer that at this point... the game is not ready yet, so it all may change a hundred times by the time we launch. Don’t worry though, it’s going to be fine.”
As to when fans will finally be able to experience Wild Hunt themselves remains to be seen.
“Of course we have a launch window in mind, we’re just not telling,” Kwiatkowski says jokingly.
“On a more serious note though, we’re one of those companies that believe in the ‘it’s ready when it’s ready’ thing.
“This stems both from our respect to gamers and the fact we just won’t release a game that does not represent the quality we want it to represent.
“It’s a simple thing, really: we want gamers to feel that their hard-earned money is well spent.”
This is part of the reason that CD Projekt RED has such a sterling reputation. We asked Kwiatkowski why he thought the company was respected so much and he offers his earnest opinion saying, “From my point of view, I think that it’s a mix of how we treat gamers and how we value what they say about our games.
“We have the no DRM policy that’s a big bow before those who decide not to use pirated software, we support our games well after they’re launched and we actually listen to players’ feedback.
“The best part is that these values have not been invented after the company succeeded, it’s because of them that we are where we are today.”