In a rather hastily organised interview (I was contacted on Monday night about it), this week I spoke with Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, senior quest designer with CD Projekt’s The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition (Xbox 360). The game is out sometime next month and after talking to Mateusz (that’s him on the right) I’m quite intrigued in it.
The Witcher 2 came out in PC last month to critical acclaim and has sold close to (or sold) 1 million copies already. I played the original The Witcher when it first came out. It was pretty good, if I recall correctly. The interview may not make sense sometimes as I think Mateusz had trouble at times with my New Zealand accent while I had trouble understanding his strong Polish accent at times. Hopefully most of it makes sense.
I played the first Witcher on PC, which came out about 2007, and second Witcher game came out on PC in 2011. What is it about that game that gels with gamers?
I think that one of the most important things that we did right was the storyline. It’s mature and we have made it very non-linear. I think that was one of the most appealing things to the players but we have also taken all the suggestions of the players had from The Witcher into account. We have changed the combat system, added new equipment, so I guess the players appreciated all those changes.
What were the main changes that players wanted to see?
The most complaints I heard about The Witcher was the combat system not many people liked it. Most people thought it was too simple. Most people thought it was about clicking the right button in the right [he pauses to find the right word] tempo, the right momentum. They wanted something more action like and we’ve brought that to them.
So how have you made the combat better?
We have changed it completely, to be honest. We have … ah, in the Witcher 2 you can’t play in the vertical view so we don’t have point-and-click combat anymore. You also don’t have also those combat styles you had in the Witcher: which is simply swift and, ah,ah, the Witcher used only strong strikes, or tough strikes or group strikes … so now you have strong strikes on one button and fast strikes on the other, and you make a combination of those two. Also we have changed the AI (artificial intelligence) of opponents. In The Witcher they were simply divided into groups of opponents, like strong opponents which were vulnerable to strong attack styles, if the Witcher used it, and tough opponents which had to be killed using the tough attack styles. In The Witcher 2 we have opponents more divided into the combat styles they use. So we have opponents with a shield, we have opponents with two weapons, we have opponents with ranged weapons, etc. It’s not about using only fast strikes to kill opponents with two swords, for example, it’s more about thinking how to slow them down because they are very fast and how to immobilise them. So it’s completely changed.
Do you think with this new combat system each player could tackle combat differently from, say, another player because of all the options open to them?
Yes, certainly. We have added new abilities for the Witcher and most of the signs that he has now are really useful during the combat, I think. Not all of the signs in The Witcher were all that useful and besides the signs, of course, you also have all the talents that improve your short combat we have added finishers, we have added ripostes. Ripostes work, like, when you are blocking in the right moment you can make the Witcher perform a riposte, so it is a more action-like feature. Also, you have a lot of gadgets, you can also use bombs, which you create yourself, you can use traps, you can use lures to lure monsters so you have a big variety of things to do.
Is The Witcher 2 a good mix of RPG and action game or is it leaning more towards an action feel?
No, no, we didn’t want to, you know, we still wanted it to be a pure-blooded RPG, so it’s more like a mix of action game and RPG and on the easy mode you can probably go through the whole game without much effort. This mode was made mainly for the players that wanted to concentrate on the story, on the dialogue, and on the plot, mainly. We didn’t forget about them because we know that many people who played The Witcher played it mostly for the story and don’t care for the action elements.
With the enhanced edition coming out on Xbox 360 next month, what challenges did developing the game for a console bring?
Well, you know, the architecture of the Xbox console is completely different than for the PC, as you may know, so it was a big challenge for the whole team because we hadn’t made any console games before. So we had to change our way of thinking and had to recreate the game anew, to be honest. It was not a simple port we call it an adaptation in most interviews because we had to change many systems to make it user-friendly for console gamers. It’s simply not the same for PC gamers as console gamers. So aside from technical difficulties we wanted to change some things to make it more friendly for console gamers.
Do you think sometimes that games going from PC to console are sometimes `dumbed down’ to suit the different control system [of a console]?
Ah [long pause], you know what, we have also changed the control systems in our game, now that you mention it. For example, we have changed the mapping of the buttons because you could have played The Witcher 2 on PC and you could playing an Xbox pad but we have changed the mapping to be more intuitive for Xbox 360 players. Also we have made some changes to the camera system so now when you are running around the camera positions itself behind your back you can move it but it’s more natural now. I don’t know if I answered your question ...
Do you think that Xbox gamers will get the same experience as PC gamers – or is there one definitive version of The Witcher 2?
We have added a lot of new content, so on the one hand the game is the same quality as it was on the PC but I would say that it’s even better now because we have added all this new content, new movies the CGI intro which you could have seen [I told him I had and it was very impressive] but we have added many other things. I think it’s going to be an amazing experience for console gamers. All the DLC and things that we have given the PC players is going to be on Xbox as well. Also, all the new things that we are providing the Xbox 360 are also going to be added into The Witcher 2 PC version.
Sounds like it was a huge undertaking to do all this? Sounds like there was a lot of work involved?
Yes, it was. I don’t think I can elaborate on that, it was really tough work to do.
What has been most satisfying for you in doing the console version?
Apart from all the new content, I’m really proud of the CGI we didn’t do it but I am really proud of it. It was created by Tomasz Baginski (a Polish animator, film director and illustrator and former Oscar nominee) and we’re really pleased to have it.
Also, we’re really pleased in being able to fix all the issues that PC players are having, also I’m really proud that we’ve made new quests these are really large adventures.
Talking about quests, you are a quest designer, right?
Yes, I am a senior quest designer.
So for you, what did that involve? What were your day-to-day duties?
We had to design the new quests and implement them. So it was much like the process of creating the Witcher 2. We just started creating new content. I had to address all the issues we had on the Xbox version but aside from that we had to design these new quests, we had to implement them and make fixes in them, we had to put all the new content in the game because we have added a new lot of cut scenes and movies, so we had to change the original content. So yeah, it was mostly that.
Is it difficult coming up with original quests when there are a few RPG games around now?
Are you asking me if we had trouble coming up with new ideas? In my opinion, in this universe, in the one that The Witcher 2 takes place, it has a really large potential that was as yet was untouched. There are a lot of RPG games out there but most of them are, in my opinion, high fantasy games or dark fantasy games ... ah, so it wasn’t that hard at all, to be honest. There are only a limited number of things which you can think of in a limited time but on the other hand this universe has so much potential because Geralt of Rivia (our main protagonist), he’s not the normal type of hero. He is quite tired with the world around him so he’s not a saviour of the innocents, you know, he doesn’t rescue puppies from fires, so it’s really interesting to design quests from his approach. We’re not using the old stereotypes about where you have a simple quest and in the end you have a choice: one choice is good, one choice is bad. In our game we create different choices that aren’t right, they aren’t wrong, but they are just choices, which you must do, but you must face the consequences later. So I think it brings a different approach to the plot.
Can you ever see The Witcher 2 coming out on the PlayStation 3, for example, now that you have a history of working on consoles?
That’s a really good question but to be honest now all of our efforts are concentrated on the Xbox version because, you know, we haven’t finished it yet. So we really would like to but no decision has yet been made. That’s all that I can tell you. That’s the only thing I know, to be honest.
Where next for you after The Witcher 2 Extended Edition is finished? Any idea where you next project will go? Are you going to take a break?
No, no, we are certainly going to work on something but I’m not allowed to say yet. Certainly we not going to take a one year break [laughs].