Polish developers CD Projekt RED have been creating The Witcher series since back in 2007, when the game of the same name released onto Windows PC and OS X to largely positive reviews. The series, which is based on the books by polish novelist Andrzej Sapkowski has grown throughout the years with an amazing and passionate fan base that spans the entire globe. The Witcher series has evolved since its debut in 07 and with the hugely successful launch of this year’s latest addition and third title in the series; The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt CD, Projekt RED have succeeded in creating a massive open world experience with a wonderfully gritty storyline, memorable characters and stunningly beautiful environments, not to mention the ferocious monsters ranging from Griffins to Vampires.
We recently had the chance to chat with Karolina Stachyra, writer and Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, Lead Quest Designer at CD Projekt RED to find out more about the series that has gripped so many people worldwide.
PressA2Join: Nowadays Triple A developers lament the large cost of making high-quality video games. The latest instalment of the Witcher is undoubtedly one of the most massive games ever made and it positively oozes production value: high graphical fidelity, great voice acting, 16 hours of sexual motion capture, all in all not a cheap game to make. And still, CD Projekt has a famously consumer-oriented philosophy, opting not to use DRM and to bombard us, the gamers, with constant free DLC, only asking for money when delivering one the size of an entire new game. You obviously took a lot of risks. Was this financially challenging in any way? Are you pleased with how well the game sold?
Karolina Stachyra, Writer: Sure we are! We’ve sold six million copies of the game in the first six weeks and, I think, this is a sign that gamers are on board with what we do. We are all gamers here and everything that we do is centered around that. We, mildly speaking, don’t like DRM, as it frequently influences your gaming experience in a negative way, we love the idea that a developer supports their game well after launch and we adore the fact that we get free, meaningful stuff as a thank you after launch. So, even if it’s not an industry standard, this is what we do. And we hope others will follow.
Speaking of paid DLC, The Witcher 3 expansion Hearts of Stone came out recently. Usually when we play an expansion DLC we expect an experience that improves upon or stands out when compared to the core game. For our readers that might not have tried it yet, could you tell us a bit about any challenges that you encountered in trying to top The Witcher 3? What can we expect, furthermore, from Blood and Wine?
KS: Hearts of Stone has a bit different pacing than Wild Hunt had — at its core, the main story arc is really condensed and action packed. In the 10 to 15 hours that await you in the Expansion, you’ll form a band of thieves and party with a ghost at a wedding, just to embark on some pretty dark adventures later on. As for Blood and Wine, I can’t tell you much at this point, but we will introduce a totally different realm to explore, so, if you haven’t tried the base game yet, there’s no better time than now — you’ll have plenty of time to explore everything and then dive into something entirely new.
The Witcher series, even from its inception, was a controversial one due to its adult content. Most notably, it tackles sex, racism and prejudice in a very forthright manner. This has drawn both praise and criticism from journalists and the public. If one looks at the series’ progression, one can see that these themes are presented in an increasingly tasteful and mature way, with the sex being evolved from collectible cards to a narrative device that lets us know more about the character relationships and the prejudice being depicted increasingly as a complex social issue rather than a simple good vs evil matter.
Many writers struggle to properly depict mature content in a way that doesn’t patronize the audience. Was it an effort for the team to get these issues right? Were there any fears that you’d alienate part of your audience?
KS: When we approached creating characters in Wild Hunt, be it male or female, our first and, by far, most important guideline was to make them believable. A believable character has to be multilayered — they need to have their own emotions, motivations and character. And, I think, this is why Wild Hunt fared so well in terms of player reception to the aspects of the game some might consider video game taboo. And I’m not only talking about how this process resonated with sexual content in the game, but also how we approached other mature themes, like alcoholism. Take the Bloody Baron. At first, when you meet him, he seems like a pretty archetypical bad guy, but once you get to know him, see how he connected with Ciri and get to know his story, you start seeing how multi-dimensional he is. We consider this sort of writing something that elevates the genre a bit and paves way for even more difficult mature themes to appear in video games.
The drug-induced hallucination with the giant chicken and the mushroom trees in The Witcher 2. What was up with that?
Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, Lead Quest Designer: Erm… well… This is one of those things that just happen when you work like crazy on super serious stuff and try to vent a bit. One night we we’re fooling around in the editor and Adam Badowski, the Head of Studio, saw it. And, to our surprise, he was like: cool, this should end up in the game. And, well, it did *laughs*.
This is the Gwent Question. You knew this was going to happen. We’re legally obligated to ask by this point. Stand-Alone Gwent Game? But even more importantly, how sick are you of The Gwent Question?
KS: We love ‘the Gwent question’ as it shows that people really like Gwent *laughs*. In the form gamers know it from Wild Hunt, Gwent was designed to be a single player experience and can’t become a standalone game. I mean, the game is designed to allow you to be almost invincible at the end of the story. This wouldn’t work in PvP.
With the huge success of The Witcher 3, are there any plans to continue the series after Wild Hunts DLC is complete?
KS: No such plans for now. Geralt needs a bit of rest.
Last question. The US President, Mr. Barack Obama received a copy of The Witcher 2 from the Polish prime minister back in 2011. By 2014 he still hadn’t played it. While we understand that the President probably has a huge backlog of games he’s been putting off playing, we were a bit disappointed to learn this. Does CD Projekt RED share our disappointment?
KS: But Mr. Obama did mention The Witcher when he was in Poland in 2014. On his own. Most of us didn’t even know about it until the phones began to ring in the studio. He said that our game is a great example of Poland’s place in the new global economy and it’s a tribute to the talents and the work ethic of the Polish people. And that makes us insanely proud!
Massive thank you to Karolina and Mateusz for taking the time out to chat with us.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Hearts Of Stone Expansion is available now for the Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC.