Interview - Maciej Szczesnik [The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt]


  • The Witcher 3
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Trust me, when you get a chance to email Polish wonderteam CD Projekt RED, specifically their Lead Gameplay Designer working on the most ambitious role playing game of the coming generation, you get straight to the important stuff. Thus, our interview begins with…
Combat Improvements

Click: What melee weapons will Geralt have at his disposal this time?

Maciej Szcześnik, Lead Gameplay Designer: He won’t be parting with his trusty steel and silver swords. As a witcher, he has gone through countless hours of practice with his blades, and they have become an integral part of Geralt’s character. Just like in previous games, he’ll use a steel sword for his human foes and a silver one for creatures of magical origin. We will probably introduce a couple of other weapons, but they will play a secondary role. Swords first and foremost!

Click: Pole weapons appeared in Assassins of Kings, but were not the main focus – Will gamers have the option of playing through Wild Hunt using a spear, axe, shield, mace or even a pair of daggers?

[Admittedly, Maciej just answered this. But mail, even the electronic kind, bears its limitations. Bear with us, Maciej still gave some cracking answers!”]

Particle effects ahoy!
Particle effects ahoy!Enlarge Enlarge

MS: There are two factors determining the types of weapons Geralt brings to bear against his opponents. First of all, we have the books. Storywise, the White Wolf is utterly devoted to his two swords and making him wield something else would almost be considered blasphemous, a huge immersion-breaker for fans of the books and people familiar with the lore. Even though we came up with a new story for Geralt that takes place after the events in the books, we try to be as faithful to the source material as possible.

Secondly, we’ve already established Geralt as a swordmaster in the previous games. He follows the path of the blade; it’s a part of who he is. We wouldn’t want to change that. I mean, for us, encouraging players to use polearms, shields or axes would create a dissonance akin to Batman running around with an AK-47 and shooting at his enemies.

Click: The Finishing Animations on stunned foes was a definite highlight of Assassins of Kings for me - Can we expect more Finishers in Wild Hunt? Group finishers? Will they be easier to perform? Will they trigger canned cinematics like in Assassins of Kings?

We’ve revamped combat completely and the finishers have also undergone major changes. Since we’ve tried to make fights more responsive and more realistic, we decided to portray the finishing moves within the combat choreography itself, rather than present them via separate cutscenes. This way we don’t break immersion and the finishers look even more spectacular.

Click: Given he’s a professional warrior, will Geralt have access to different fighting styles in Wild Hunt? I understand the QTE fist fighting has been removed. Does this mean bare fists will be a viable combat option? (I REALLY hope so....)

Slow and low, that is the tempo
Slow and low, that is the tempoEnlarge Enlarge

MS: Geralt will have two fighting styles to choose from - a fast one and a strong one, just like in The Witcher 2. On top of that, he will also perform special attacks chosen by the player during character development. Combine that with 96 separate attack animations and you end up with a deadly flurry of silver, steel and magic.

As you mentioned, QTEs are gone, but that doesn’t mean fist fights have met the same fate. In a way, they constitute an important, immersive part of the night life in the game world. Plus, mini-games are a good way of letting players take a short breather from questing, should they need one. We’ve replaced QTE mechanics in these fist fights with a new system, one that gives more control to the player. They will still be brutal and challenging, that’s for sure.

Click: Modern Action Games, notably Arkham City, Dark Souls and Revengeance put a lot of stock in their counters-attacking systems. Geralt was a fairly aggressive fighter last time, but will he have a wider range of parries, ripostes, evades, backstabs and defensive manoeuvres in Wild Hunt?

Yes, Geralt will have new parry moves, counters and dodges at his disposal. Thanks to the 96 new combat sequences I mentioned, fights won’t come across as repetitive. Additionally, combat itself has been slightly slowed down, and in turn has become more tactical. Defense will play a crucial role during fights. You’ll now be able to block incoming attacks while moving - swing your sword, though, and you’ll create an opening for your opponent. Combat will thus require more planning and thinking.

Click: There were five major signs in Witcher 1 & 2 – are there more signs on offer in Wild Hunt? Will basic version of the signs be available from the start? Or will they need to be unlocked?

MS: At the beginning, Geralt will be able to choose from five signs. It doesn’t end there, however - in The Witcher 3 we introduce new casting modes which effectively double the number of signs at the players disposal. These “alternative versions” will be unlocked through character development, but don’t think of them as simply stronger versions of the same spells - they will offer different tactical uses. Let’s take Aard as an example. The primary version of this sign will send a telekinetic thrust to stun or knock down foes. With time, players will be able to unlock a secondary version of the sign and by pressing and holding the button, they will send out a shockwave that knocks down all surrounding enemies (you can actually spot this in our gameplay trailer). Similar dual modes are available for every other sign.

Click: Can you tell me anything about the reported weakness/vulnerability targeting system in Witcher 3? How is it triggered? Will it tie into normal combat? Will it open up non-lethal solutions to certain battles?

MS: Currently we’re still brainstorming different ways to implement this feature, so unfortunately it’s way too early to talk about it. Should it find its way into the game, we’ll most likely make use of it as part of the Monster Hunting mechanics.

Click: We’ve heard Geralt can talk his way out of certain encounters and even accept an opponent’s surrender – will non-lethal playthroughs be possible in Wild Hunt?

MS: We have to take two notions into consideration here. Geralt is a witcher, a monster slayer and a brilliant swordmaster. To get fully immersed in the character, players have to experience violent outcomes to certain conflicts. He’s not a murderer, though, and with all the weight we put on story, Geralt will definitely be able to solve some problems in non-lethal ways. The concept of choice is embedded deep within our code and is a crucial feature of the design of every single quest. At the same time, we draw a mostly grim picture of a gray, rather than a black and white, world. In this world, killing might not be the most cruel way of finishing some quests.

And that’s me told! Bloodlust satiated for the time being (or quite the opposite actually), I asked Maciej to open up about the nuts and bolts holding Wild Hunt together…

New Features

Monsters aplenty to be hunted
Monsters aplenty to be huntedEnlarge Enlarge

Click: Considering the improvements brought via REDengine 3, how will NPCs react if Geralt gets a reputation for being overly brutal?

MS: We work towards creating an open, living world and we put a lot of emphasis on the consequences of player’s actions. That’s why in some quests players will be able to pick between taking a brutal course of action and a milder, more pacifist one. We’re exploring a variety of ways of providing players with choices in order to avoid repetitiveness.

When it comes to NPC reactions - we’re working on a reaction mechanic that will determine characters’ attitude towards Geralt. Thus starting a brawl in a village will not only antagonize the town guards, but also scare off the local inhabitants.

Click: Will Geralt have more opportunities to resolve conflicts via conversation? Are we likely to see any light platforming or puzzle sections in Wild Hunt?

MS: Yes, Geralt will be able to resolve some conflicts just by talking to people. However, it won’t be a generic mechanic, available at your disposal automatically. Instead, it’s a part of our meticulous quest design process. We want to tell a story first and foremost, and hard choices that evoke strong emotions and have concrete consequences are a vital part of that.
I wouldn’t expect any platforming or puzzle elements in The Witcher 3, though. Such features are not exactly in line with the general theme of our games, which revolves around a complex storyline and tough choices.

Click: Horseback riding across the open world is a much advertised new feature. We know the Axii charm works on wild horses - will other signs have an effect? Will Horseback Combat feature in Wild Hunt?

Look at the level of detail in the Horse Teeth!!!
Look at the level of detail in the Horse Teeth!!!Enlarge Enlarge

MS: Players will be able to cast signs on mounted opponents - an Aard sign to knock someone out of his saddle or an Igni sign to wound him. As for horseback combat itself, we’re considering some options. It’s important to understand that mounted combat wouldn’t exactly be canonical with the source books - Geralt isn’t some sort of medieval knight in shining armor jousting in tournaments. Horses are his means of travel. Still, we’ll be able to offer more insight on that in the near future.

Click: Beyond knife throwing and bomb tossing, will ranged combat (longbow, crossbow) make an appearance?

MS: Geralt might equip bombs, for instance, that he can toss in a tight spot, but he’d frown upon going into battle with a bow or a crossbow. As a witcher, he fights his enemies up close, with one of his two swords. Using bows would be a major step away from the lore and that’s something we definitely refrain from.

Click: Reportedly, Monster Hunting is much expanded in Wild Hunt – what role will potions, poisons, traps and preparation play in this system? Will it be a more strategic affair than its predecessors?

MS: We’ve revamped combat to make it feel more tactical. Players will need to plan for each encounter in advance, for instance by learning which fighting style will work best against a given foe. Potions and poison will be an integral part of these preparations as well. Monsters will in general be more challenging - we want to make each encounter memorable and difficulty has a role to play in that. Having to brew the proper potions builds on this.

Click: What Mini-Games will be on offer this time around? Will they tie into Geralt’s core mechanics or use unique interfaces?

We’re still working on mini-games, so we can’t reveal too much here. Aside from the fist fights I mentioned before, Geralt will have to practice his axe work a little bit - that’s enough of a reveal, for now.

Geralt's skills with the blade could definately be described as 'not shit'...
Geralt's skills with the blade could definately be described as 'not shit'...Enlarge Enlarge

Click: Are there any multiplayer plans for Wild Hunt? Assassins of Kings offered an arena mode, will this transform into a multiplayer option?

MS: Our focus is on making The Witcher 3 a breathtaking, unforgettable experience, a true storytelling gem among video games. Hard choices, morally gray characters - that’s what will make the next installment of Geralt’s story a truly great RPG. Any multiplayer features would only break the immersion we’ve worked so hard to achieve. That’s why The Witcher 3 will be a single-player experience only.

Click: When are you planning on showing off more Witcher 3: Wild Hunt gameplay footage next?

What we’ve shown during E3 was a pre-alpha build and we were overwhelmed by the ecstatic feedback and numerous awards (over 50!) that followed; we still have a humongous amount of work ahead of us. That’s why you’ll have to be patient in waiting for the new footage.

Click: Can you confirm a release date? Or even a release period i.e. Q2 2014?

MS: The Witcher 3 will come out in 2014, period. We’re developing a game with a giant, open world and over 100 hours of gameplay - releasing it unpolished, just because we set a date earlier, would be an enormous waste.

And finally, given the buzz generated by its reveal trailer, I couldn’t let Maciej go without a few words on a certain Sci-Fi IP on everyone’s mind…

Cyberpunk 2077

Click: Can we expect any Cyberpunk Easter Eggs in Witcher 3? There was a Witcher 3 Easter Egg in the Cyberpunk trailer!

MS: Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher series are two completely separate entities, even though they’re being developed under the same roof. That’s why it’s very probable the two games will hint at one other. However, I can’t reveal anything more, as surprise is a crucial factor when it comes to easter eggs in games.

Click: Will Cyberpunk, being your first non-Witcher title, feature wholly different mechanics to Wild Hunt? Or will there be some similarities in combat, dialogue or level progression?

MS: I understand where these questions come from - after all, The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 are being developed by the same company. That, plus the fact both these games run on REDengine 3 and putting priority on the storyline and an immersive experience are the only elements that tie them together. We have two separate teams developing them and thus they’ll be completely different entities.

Click: Any idea when we might get our first glimpse at some Cyberpunk gameplay footage?

For now, we’re focusing on The Witcher 3. Cyberpunk 2077 will come into the spotlight soon enough.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt storms PC, Xbox One and PS4 at some stage in 2014.

Interview - Maciej Szczesnik [The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt] on
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