I recently sat down with CD Projekt RED’s senior writer Jakub Szamalek and senior QA analyst Bartosz Ochman. During our conversation we spoke about the attention to detail required to create the huge open-world of their upcoming game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt comes out soon. What are you working on right now?
Jakub Szamalek: Right now the story team is adding the finishing touches to the game. We are doing some onscreen text, some letters and documents. Basically we are wrapping up the entire story part of the game. There a lot of polishing, that’s actually what we are using this time for.
OK. Well, it does look pretty polished from what I’ve seen so far.
Bartosz Ochman: It’s a huge game with a million different aspects. We really need time to test everything, to run through everything a million of times. Our QA team has grown significantly over the last couple of months, so there is a lot of hard work in making sure everything is OK.
What’s the biggest departure from The Witcher 2?
Jakub Szamalek: I think it’s the open world- it changed everything. It’s a matter of scale, things are much bigger. But it’s also changed how we create the game and how we make quests work.
In The Witcher 2 the structure was linear. There was a lot of non-linearity in the choices you made and the paths you chose, but basically the quests were aligned in a nice neat line. In The Witcher 3 you can do them in whatever order you please and they still have to connect and make sense.
The other thing is that we had to make this huge world interesting. The Witcher 2 had a number of side quests, but since the world was much smaller well could get away with fewer of them. Whereas this time we have built a world that is forty times bigger and so we had to put a lot of attention and time into making the world interesting.
There’s lots of points of interest like ruins, caves, abandoned building and whatnot. We have to make each of these places worth visiting. So there a little bits of back story, there’s someone to meet, a story to discover and a secret to find. There has to be a reward. So we spent a lot of time with that.
From a story perspective there’s this extra layer on non-linearity because you can do the main quests in the game in different orders. Depending on the order in which do them you actually get a slightly different story. So this is really a game changer- opening up the world and making it so big.
You’ll have to forgive my ignorance, I’ve never read The Witcher books. Where has the story for The Witcher 3 come from? Do you adapt the novels, or are they just inspiration?
Jakub Szamalek: The games basically begin were the books ended. So we take the same characters and take the world from Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels but the adventures that we create are entirely new. The novels are more of an inspiration than a direct adaptation. We try to stay as faithful to the original stories as possible, so characters speak in the same way that they would have spoken in the books and the main themes are similar. So I would say the novels are a very strong inspiration.
You mentioned how the characters speak. One of the things that I noticed in The Witcher 2 was how a lot of the characters speak with a Welsh access. What’s with that?
Jakub Szamalek: That’s a good question. Actually, we have a lead English writer back at home, Borys, who grew up in the States, travelled around the world quite a bit and he’s the expert in accents. He chooses different accents for any given group in the game. I think it’s people from Kaedwen, a kingdom in The Witcher universe, that have a have a very memorable Welsh accent.
It’s a lot of fun. You don’t usually get voices in games with heavy Welsh accents, it did tickle me a bit.
Jakub Szamalek: With The Witcher 3 the world is bigger so it has some more diversity. There’s the Welsh accent, but you also get southern England, northern England, a bit of a Scottish accent and a bit of an Irish accent.
Bartosz Ochman: You can guess which part of The Witcher world a character comes from.
Jakub Szamalek: When you meet someone in the game – before you get to know them – you can hear which part of the world they come from. Which is awesome and adds some extra depth and believability.
I think you are right. In so many games, when they have medieval characters, they just go for a generic British Received Pronunciation accent.
Bartosz Ochman: It’s another layer of attention to detail. I think we are a bit crazy about detail. I heard a story that some guys were sitting and watching the forest and they were talking about the acidity of the soil, the p.h. of the soil. They were wondering if these small trees could actually grow in the forest next to the pine- because pine makes the soil acidic. So they had this discussion about if one tree next to this tree or not.
Jakub Szamalek: When we were designing the city of Novigrad, the biggest city in The Witcher universe, we were actually wondering what types of stone would have been used to make the fortifications. So we would look at the geology of the area we created and we would read the books and because there is a massive river we made our choices based on that.
The Skellige Islands, in the northern part of The Witcher‘s universe, are based on Nordic and Gallic mythology and culture. When we were designing them I read through several archaeological reports to find out what the villages in medieval Norway and Iceland would have looked like. We used that information to make them more believable.
We are really trying to make this world immersive and authentic. Even though there are dragons and magic and whatnot, we like to believe that it is possible that, maybe, this world could have existed somewhere.
Now, one last question. Your support for The Witcher 2 has been unprecedented, the game on my hard drive now is a lot different to the one that I first installed. Do you have something similar in store for The Witcher 3? Fans are not just buying the game are they? It’s not a fire and forget sort of thing with you guys, what are your plans for it?
Bartosz Ochman: I think kit is too early to talk about it. Right now our plan is to release the game and everyone is focusing only on that. Then we will see what happens. But for sure, we are still the same company. We care about the gamers who are buying our games, so the support will never end, that’s for sure.
Jakub Szamalek: I just want to say that we won’t be charging for DLC where you get a sword or a different pair of shoes, that not what we are about.
Bartosz Ochman: We don’t want to rip anyone off. If we believe that if something should be done for the fans, we will just do it.
Well, that’s great. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me, guys.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be out for Windows PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on 19th May.