Interview: CD Projekt Red’s Michal Platkow on The Witcher 3
Recently we had the opportunity to check out The Witcher 3 at Bandai Namco’s head office in Sydney. While there, we were fortunate enough to sit down and speak with Michał Płatkow, head of PR at CD Projekt Red.
Stevivor: The ideas of choices and morality are common themes that I’ve seen in a few videos so far regarding the main character, Geralt of Rivia. How important is the ability to make choices in The Witcher 3, and what sort of effect will they have in the game?
Platkow: Choices and consequences are a trademark in this franchise, so they have always been important for us and they really do matter now. In The Witcher 2 you had choices which could influence the entire gameplay, such as big parts of the game being accessible only for players who made certain choices. In The Witcher 3 it is still very important for us, if not the most important. Of course, this is an open-world environment so we can’t just close one place or another, but you will be able to feel the choices you make, from the small ones like making friends or enemies, to the more severe ones like deciding the fate of one, two, or several people, or they can also have an influence on a bigger scale, and all that will be made through the choices which you make through doing or not doing something, or through the dialogues.
Stevivor: We’re going to see Geralt in all three games now. How important is continuity in writing the story of The Witcher 3, and do you think newcomers to the franchise will find it difficult to understand what’s been going on so far?
Platkow: Our design decision was to create the game to be accessible for everyone, including newcomers. You couldn’t play The Witcher 2 on the PlayStation 3 for example, so we knew that there would be people just starting their adventure on with Gerald with The Witcher 3. So as far as Geralt as a protagonist, he’s the important part for us, he doesn’t change, but you don’t have to know what happened in the past. We have adjusted the learning curve in terms of both story and gameplay mechanics, and we are using the phrase that the game is ‘easy to learn, hard to master’. You’ll be able to enjoy the game if you’ve been playing it since the beginning, where you’re a veteran already, and you’ll still have fun because you’ll be better than the others.
Stevivor: Have there been any significant gameplay changes made in this game from the last The Witcher title?
Platkow: We improved the combat, where it’s a lot more intuitive, responsive and much smoother. You can’t simply use a chain of swings or your sword, because after each swing you’ll decide what you’ll do next – whether to take another swing, change your target, use a sign or a special effect – so you’ll now have a much bigger control over that, so I’d say that it’s a large change. Another change, which is connected to the size of the world, is we had to introduce a new means of transportation, like sailing. We also implemented jumping, which might sound silly, but it helps you to travel wherever you want – there’s no artificial barrier in your way. Now if you see something next to you or in the horizon, you can go there.
Stevivor: The past two The Witcher titles have been relatively linear, with the third now claiming to be completely open-world. Why did the developers decide to go down this route?
Platkow: There’s a matter of definition of ‘linearity’, because for us, linearity means if you can decide or shape the world around you – if you can influence it somehow or change it, either story-wise or gameplay-wise, then there is no linearity. To tell the true immersive story, we believed that with The Witcher and The Witcher 2, they missed the last essential element, that being the open world. So right now, what you can do (and what you couldn’t have done in the past) is that you can travel back and check what consequences your action brought to a particular place – at any moment you can leave what you’re doing and change the place, change the mood, and experience another adventure. This is what’s cool about an open-world, but it’s not for the sake of just having an open-world, it’s for having a really cool and a really good immersive story.
Stevivor: One thing that people really admired about the past two The Witcher titles was their difficulty, and that you couldn’t just breeze through them. Will The Witcher 3 continue with this tradition, and will there be a ‘nightmare’ difficulty in this game as well?
Platkow: I don’t know yet what will be the name of the difficulty levels, but for sure you can expect several levels, with something easy (where maybe ‘easy’ will be even easier than what it was for The Witcher 2), but you can also expect something hard. As I said before, we wanted to create it so that it would be easy to learn but difficult to master, so it will be easy to survive, but if want to do cool stuff or advance relatively faster it will be harder. We don’t have a monster scaling level, which means that if something is too easy for you, you can always look for a more challenging monster and try to beat it if you are a veteran of the franchise. I guess everyone will enjoy the game.
Stevivor: We recently learnt that two gameplay designers had left the studio to join a smaller indie studio. Has this had any impact at all on the development of this game?
Platkow: The big impact was that they were both friends of mine, so I’ve been missing them. A good thing was that they didn’t move too far, they left for a really nice company which is, I would say, our friends, so we aren’t working too far from each other and are still in contact. They were responsible for parts of the game which were already done, or at least planned, so I would say ‘no’. The other thing is that we have over 220 talented people from 19 countries working on the game, so we shouldn’t worry about it. I wish them luck though, because they were seeking new challenges and they wanted to have a bigger influence on smaller games. They both loved indie games so I wish them the best.
Stevivor: An interesting thing about The Witcher 3 is that it features no loading screens. What kind of work or changes have been made to the game to make that happen?
Platkow: OK, so to avoid loading screens in such a big world we had to work more on our engine, to develop it further. We are using the Red engine, which is our own technology, that is adopted to the next-gen and to role-playing games. We designed that from scratch while working on The Witcher 2, so it exactly matched our needs and there’s nothing on-top that we don’t need. With this technology, and the power of the next-gen consoles and PCs, we can achieve that. That said, it’s not so easy – I’ve made and put it simply, but there’s guys responsible for things like edging and programmers who could talk for hours on how they did it. Good work guys!
Stevivor: The Witcher 3 is being developed on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Now I’ve noticed that some developers for games which are coming out soon are releasing their games on both current and last gen consoles. Is there a reason you guys have said that this game will only be released on the new generation consoles?
Platkow: Yes. The reason is that there’s no compromise for quality. If you are developing a game on both the old and the new consoles, you’re either losing something along the way or you have a huge team which can work on the same moment across different assets, depending on how crazy the quality can go. We, since the beginning, wanted to create a game that was as good looking as possible, using as powerful machines as possible, and knew at that moment that we didn’t support eight-year old consoles.
Stevivor: On that note, are the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 now as good as PC, or do you always find that PCs are still a little better in terms of what they can handle?
Platkow: I’m not super into the technical specifications of each of the systems, I just recently bought a next-gen console and I really enjoy how powerful it is, and it’s enough for me. There will always be a PC system that is better – I recently visited a website for a manufacturer of good PCs and they give you the option to create the computer of your dreams, and they created this system which cost, if I remember correctly, more than €50,000, which is super-cool and way better than any console you can find on Earth, but you know, the consoles are quite powerful right now, and you can really create beautiful looking games on them. I’m looking forward to more titles because there aren’t so many right now.
Stevivor: To wrap things up, at the beginning we spoke about morality and choices. When you’re playing, do you like to play the hero or the villain? Why?
Platkow: It depends on the game of course. In Star Wars: The Old Republic I always try to be a sith, but when I’m playing The Witcher it depends. If I like the NPC I will behave in a regular or polite way, but if I don’t like someone then I have no problems pointing it out and doing something more harsh. It’s all about the design of the NPC.
Many thanks to Michał for his time.
The Witcher 3 will launch on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC later this year.