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» The Witcher - Interview With Michal Madej

GH: Hi Michal, can you tell us your relation to the forthcoming game: "The Witcher"?

Michal: My name is Michal Madej and for the past three years I have been the game’s chief designer, which inevitably means that I have been responsible for the general conceptualisation of “The Witcher”. Consequently, I set the course for all the individual designer departments that were tasked with combat, character development, plot, GUI, as well as many smaller aspects of the game.

GH: Can you describe for us exactly what kind of game this is, and the type of gamer who will be attracted to it?

Michal: “The Witcher” is a very modern adaptation of the classic RPG, where great effort is placed on an intricate, non-linear, and absorbing plot. Additional strong points of the game are its original, unusual, and adult fantasy world, which the player gets to explore through Geralt – the story’s main character, the legendary monster slayer, known also as the White Wolf. Moreover, “The Witcher” offers electrifying, dynamic, and visually spectacular combat. Largely thanks to these characteristics, I strongly believe that the game will strike a positive chord with a wide section of gamers. After all, who of us has not fallen spell before to an intriguing plot, stimulating action, and charismatic heroes?

GH: Having seen a few of the videos released, just how closely to those videos will the gamer experience compare?

Michal: Frankly, I think that at present the game presents itself even better at this moment, as those videos were made a couple months back. Moreover, we do not tend to publish any “fake” clips. All the content uploaded onto the official webpage are authentic fragments of the game, which are mostly gameplay elements, with some selected cut scenes, as well. I can personally guarantee that those of you who liked the already posted videos will like the actual game even more.

GH: Will the game be only released for the PC, or are other platforms being considered? If so, which one/s?

Michal: We decided to concentrate our efforts on the creation of a PC version of the game mostly on account of the fact that, as PC entertainment software publishers we believe that the market for such productions still has great potential. Moreover, learning from the lessons of some of our competitors, the dichotomy of creating a game title for two platforms usually ends in failure. Take the simple issue of control, for example. The conversion of just that one element from the PC to a console platform would cause insurmountable problems, as “The Witcher” was created with mainly mouse gameplay in mind, and hence would most certainly literally kill the game. This would explain our decision to channel all our efforts to a thorough PC production, in place of splitting our resources to the creation of mediocre titles for a number of platforms. This does not mean, however, that we would rule out console games with the Witcher in their title in the future.

GH: How was the concept and story of The Witcher developed, and what has been its inspiration?

Michal: The story of the game’s conceptualisation is essentially one of our courage to undertake the whole subject of the Witcher. Initially, we were immensely intimidated by the superb literature, on which we were to base the game. That would explain why our first dab at it was rather modest, for we wanted to use the Witcher world only, complementing it with our very own characters and plot, so as to not touch the “sacredness” of Sapkowski’s protagonists and ideas. Rather quickly, however, we came to acknowledge the fact that this was in fact a dead end we were working towards, as this way we were losing out on what was best in the novelist’s literature. That is when the breakthrough took place – Geralt reclaimed his rightful place as the protagonist, the plot was completely rewritten, and an innovative combat system came to be. And that was what magically turned a simple action RPG into one of the most original games of its genre that we hope you have seen. The inspiration behind this sudden change was Sapkowski himself, the world he created, the stories he conjured up, the characters he gave life to, all in his own original narrative style.

GH: How much freedom will the gamer have in relationship to the story development? Is it totally linear, or are there areas where the gamer can do some side quests?

Michal: “The Witcher”, as every self-respecting RPG, provides the player with a great deal of freedom when it comes to decision making. In this case, we put emphasis on shaping the plot through gamer choices. The game has three completely different endings, depending on decisions made by the player throughout the whole adventure, from beginning to end. While it seems that this is already a certain expected standard, established by games like BioWare’s, “The Witcher” is different in this respect when it comes to the nature of the actual choices. Firstly, all the decisions the player will face are mature and ethically difficult, forcing the gamer to make the choice between two evils. Secondly, the effects of these choices will not be immediately apparent, as they are time delayed, preventing the player to revert to the “save/load” technique to determine, which decision is more advantageous. Thirdly, when the effects of his actions will become clear, the player will be reminded of his choices which led to this outcome through flashback or feedback cut scenes. Naturally, there will also be a multitude of side quests awaiting completion, most of which will be commissions for the slaying of monsters.

GH: Will the gamer feel freedom of movement and exploration, or will the gamer feel restricted to certain areas?

Michal: As the producers we did everything we thought possible to avoid the player feeling constrained by technology or the game’s design. We are aware of the fact that this particular sensation of liberty is one of the most important aspects of such a game, and that designers often revert to their repertoire of tricks that will create an impression of freedom, as absolute player autonomy is technologically practically unfeasible. In the case of “The Witcher”, we bet on free plot exploration simply because we just would not be able to recreate the whole of Sapkowski’s world. In any case, grandeur and freedom in games cannot only be measured in terms of geographical dimension – an enormous but uninhabited desert has very little to offer in comparison with a small but densely populated city.

GH: We’ve read about things like “motion capture” and “physics modules”. Does this mean the game will require a system with next gen/state of the art performance to be able to enjoy it?

Michal: Definitely not. While “The Witcher” does indeed possess some stunning visuals, a fair deal of technological sophistication, physics animation, as well as motion captured animation, the game will most certainly run on decent computers and thus does not require the latest graphics cards. Whilst creating the game, we focused on the plot, characters, and combat, and while these elements do require realistic graphics, effects, and animations, they were not an end in their own right.

GH: Upon seeing some of the few screenshots of The Witcher in action, how closely will the gameplay be to previous games e.g. the Baldur’s Gate series and the Neverwinter Nights series?

Michal: Paradoxically, the player’s experience will be both similar and different in this respect. On the one hand, “The Witcher” and the mentioned games belong to the same classic RPG genre, and additionally are comparable technologically, as they operate on the same engines. BioWare’s accents are thus noticeable, particularly since we tried to retain many good aspects of the studio’s trademarks, such as non-linearity and split endings. On the other hand, however, “The Witcher” is significantly different to these titles. Firstly, we replaced the d20 turn based conception of battle with dynamic and energetic combat in real time. Additionally, the game sports an absolutely innovative skills system and character development, which is indispensable in emphasising the Witcher’s specificity. The game engine has been modified in over 80% when compared to the original NWN Aurora, which resulted in the beautiful locations or full screen special effects you will be able to witness. I am positive that gamer fans of those aforementioned titles will gladly take to exploring their beloved aspects of such productions, redesigned and presented with a completely innovative, fresh and modern tinge to them.

GH: Can you describe what has been done to enhance the game engine for The Witcher?

Michal: As I have already mentioned, there have been some significant changes – around 80% of the original engine has been rewritten. Out of this, probably the most noticeable is the change of the rendering module – from OpenGL to a the new DirectX 9, where the latter’s superiority shows in pixel-shading, normal mapping, and full screen effects among others. Moreover, we reformulated the whole game mechanism – going from the d20 turn based system to real time combat. The last thing I would like to mention is the game’s edition environment, which had a complete makeover. The Aurora Toolset simply did not meet the efficiency and stipulations we were looking for. The new toolset is fully integrated with “The Witcher” and, among other things, permits us to detect glitches and implement changes in real time. In addition to all this, there have been many other smaller changes and modifications, which I have simply not mentioned due to lack of space.

GH: How scalable will the graphics engine be?

Michal: The graphics engine is fully scalable – this is not only the standard requirement of the gaming market today but also rather an essential characteristic of good quality productions. We wanted “The Witcher” to be a game for both the financially constrained gamers, as well as for those who can permit themselves the purchase of higher end hardware. All players, however, will get to play an attractive and engaging game, though naturally better equipment will enable the full appreciation of “The Witcher’s” capabilities.

GH: Do you know what kind of package/s will be released when the game is finished? Will it be on DVD only, CDs/DVDs? And will there be a Collector’s Edition? If so, what can we expect to be included in it?

Michal: This issue will largely depend on the country in question, as well as ATARI, our publisher, so at present I am not really in a position to tell you what exactly will hit American stores. As the game’s developer, however, we are prepared for a DVD, CD, as well as a collector’s edition. Officially, the contents of the limited edition will be announced soon enough, though I can already tell you that it will include something that every Witcher cannot do without.

GH: Will there be a public playable demo at any stage prior to release?

Michal: Again, I am not really in a position to guarantee anything of the sort, though we do not rule out such a possibility. After all, the issue of the demo also depends on ATARI’s decision. This should be resolved relatively soon, however.

GH: Has any discussion included any estimate of what price range the game will be in upon release? And, regarding the release, will it be a global release or restricted to certain areas? (I’m certainly hoping for a USA release at the same time as all the others. ;) )

Michal: Our aim is to get the game published simultaneously across the globe, and the US should be no exception in this respect. As for the price tag, CD Projekt is not the direct publisher on that market, which means I cannot really say anything about it. I reckon, however, since “The Witcher” is presently one of ATARI’s more important projects, and that it is classed as an AAA product, this should give you a fair idea of the price range you may expect.

GH: Can you describe what kinds of opponents/enemies will be encountered? Will any of these have such magic/spells that they can morph into different forms?

Michal: “The Witcher” is essentially a game about a monster slayer, which inevitably means that we have put every effort into getting the creatures, beasts, fiends to surprise you with their variety and originality. Most of the credit is of course Sapkowski’s, who made monsters the second most important characters of his novels, giving such fantasy clichés as vampires new colours. In the game world, therefore, the player will encounter living (or sort of living) “relics” – monsters dragged to this world from parallel universes by a magical cataclysm, dispossessed of their natural ecological niche, trying to survive in an alien realm where their physical bodies do not necessarily respond to established laws of nature. In addition to these, there will be monsters conjured up through magic, giant mutated insects, as well as the results of failed experiments conducted by power hungry wizards. Therefore, you will not be overrun by clichés zombies, as the Sapkowski’s undead are the returning spirits of wrongdoers, or the spectres of troubled and vengeful souls. In addition, if things were not bad already, Geralt will have to face the menace of human foes. As for mimics, they have a special role to play in the game, which of course I cannot disclose now to not ruin all the fun.

GH: What kind of skill leveling will be used? And, are opponents also able to level up as the gamer’s progress develops?

Michal: In order to give due credit to the specificity of the Witcher’s vocation, we had to develop our own skills advancement mechanism, in such a way as to not smother the profession’s potential. That would be the reason why we did not take up any of the existing solutions like d20 or other such systems. Additionally, we wanted to avoid employing any “tricks of the trade” on this issue, as apart from a limited circle of adamant RPG fans, such a solution would seem rather unexciting to the average player. Hence our decision to use a skills tree mechanism – 15 different character development trees (4 attributes, 5 Signs, 6 combat abilities), which together total at 250 skills. Such a system should give the player ample maneuvering ground in customising their character, making him master of different sword fighting techniques, alchemic cocktails, or magic Signs. As for the idea of leveling adversaries, we think that it ruins all the fun the player would otherwise have in advancing his own character.

GH: Is there any final word you’d like to share with our readers before we close?

Michal: Every year, there is a number of interesting games that have great graphics, spectacular combat, or an intriguing storyline. However, I can count on the fingers of my hand the games that offered a stunning treat for the player at the game’s completion, one which would be remembered for long and which would be the crowning achievement of satisfaction gained from reaching the very end. We believe “The Witcher” to be such a game worth playing from the very beginning to the very end. And a few times to that.

GH: Thank you, Michal. We really appreciate you taking the time to do our interview. We look forward to experiencing "The Witcher" firsthand...and hopefully, soon!

Interview conducted by: Lewis "Dyre_Straits" Turner

 



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