E3 2013: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Interview - Monster Hunting With John Mamais
Written Friday, June 28, 2013 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Slowly, bit by bit, we’re learning more about CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and the more we see, the more impressive it gets. We’ve already dribbled over the screenshots, gawped at the stunning debut gameplay trailer and even spent time with the latest build. Now it’s time to quiz Executive Producer John Mamais.
In this interview we speak to the developer about the challenges of moving from the focused, dense world of The Witcher 2 to the sprawling expanses of The Witcher 3, how CD Projekt RED is revolutionising the game’s combat, why playing on and maintaining a PC can be a giant pain in the ass, and how they're bringing the series to PlayStation for the first time.
So, what are you showing off at E3 this year?
We’ve basically got a mainline quest and a side quest that you can explore, and we’ve got two major monsters and a choices and consequences sequence, We’re showing off the open-world, the new open-world elements in the game, detective tactics and the combat system. We’re showing off our weather system, we’re showing off all the new DX 11 graphics, er... and there’s more stuff too. A lot more stuff. *laughs*
You mentioned consequences and morals. Is that a big element of The Witcher 3?
Yeah. We tell every writer and every quest designer to think about that all the time. So we try to build it deeply into the game because it’s kinda what the Sapkowski world is all about [Andrzej Sapkowski is the author of the novels upon which The Witcher games are based - Ed]. It’s not just straight forward good and evil. We’ve been saying that for a long time about our games, but we think we’ve nailed it now, it’s built into the side quests as much as it’s built into the main story. So it’s really important to us.
I think even more important than that though is the depth of the storytelling and the depth of the characters. All the characters have motivations. Even intelligent monsters have motivations. That’s important for us. We want to do a real big, awesome, open-world game but also match that with the depth of the non-linear storytelling. Choice and consequences fit in with that really well too.
You were part of Microsoft’s big press conference on Monday. What’s the reception been like so far?
Er... well, I don’t know. I didn’t read the press reception, but all my friends liked it. *laughs*
*laughing* That’s all that matters right, yeah?
They loved it. So the team was happy, that gave them some credit. For me it was really incredible.
So go into a bit more depth about the demo for us. Why have you chosen to show what you showed, and what are you hoping people will take away from the experience?
The main thing was the open world; to give you the feeling that this is going to be a real big open world. That’s kind of the biggest change. What we’re doing with the game is completely opening it up and making this huge open world out of it, but also trying to deliver really deep storytelling. So as a company we think we know how to tell a good story, but we’ve never shown that we can make a big open game so this is the proof in the pudding.
So you’ve gone from this tightly-focused game in The Witcher 2 to a completely open world in The Witcher 3. That must have been difficult.
Yeah, but The Witcher II was really not linear. It’s not tunnels, I shouldn’t say tunnels, you can move around areas, but you couldn’t travel anywhere you wanted to so technologically it’s very difficult to make that change and to deliver our kind of storytelling it’s also very difficult to do in an open world so it’s very challenging, yeah. But we’re managing and it’s going to be awesome.
You’ve been talking up The Witcher 3’s combat as “dynamic”. How has it changed from the Witcher 2?
In The Witcher 2 the combat was... there were some annoying things about it that we wanted to change, so for instance if you attack then it plays a sequence of animations, so like a lunge and a pirouette, and you had to wait for that animation to finish before you could do the next attack. In The Witcher 3 it’s more responsive so there’s more unique attacks, they’re not automatically combined, so instead of combining two or three sequences it’s one sequence of animations.
Also, in The Witcher 2 we could count maybe 20 different sequences. Now we have like 96 sequences, so there’s a lot more moves you can do in the game and it’s a lot more responsive. We’re also putting a lot of time and effort into the animation system, we’re building it out so the player moves more realistically in the game.
Also the enemies have better AI, so there’s better group behaviour when you’re in combat. And there’s other things like a moral system, so if you’re taking enemies on and really kicking everyone’s ass and there’s one guy left over he’ll probably freak out and panic, or cower down. So moral builds into it, but also your character development also impacts things like, if you take an extra sword skill, you might get some kind of extra animation. In The Witcher II it was kinda more stat-driven, so the damage modifier would change as your skills unlock. Now it changes the animation or it’ll change a magical sign, rather than just stats changing. So we’re just making it a lot cooler, I think.
There’s a lot more work in that, I take it?
Yes. We had to really beef up the team, get a bigger team, bring in really experienced developers to help think through this stuff. We had a longer pre-production period to really think things through and prototype things out. All that stuff is going into making the game as robust as we could make it, but it’s going quite well so far, so fingers crossed.
As a developer you must be excited about bringing the visual fidelity that you’ve been able to achieve on PC to consoles.
Yeah man. We need to broaden our horizons, y’know? It’s just easier to go out and buy a console to play a game than it is to buy a PC and keep upgrading it and futzing with the drivers and all that crap. It’s just easier. So it’s about getting something cool that we’re working on to more people.
Obviously you’re bringing the series to PlayStation for the first time. How are you going to go about introducing the world and the story and who geralt is as a character?
Yeah, that’s a big thing at the studio. We’ve been sitting around and brainstorming how to do that, because it’s important that you know what’s happened so far. It’s not so important, but you’re probably going to have a more connected experience with the game if you have some background on it, so we’re going to do something at the beginning of the game as an introduction, and I think we’re going to do a lot of things in the marketing to introduce people to it. If they want to know more about it.
We’ll probably release something even like a companion application to introduce people to it. Probably like a free app. But at the same time, The Witcher 2 ended in a good place and now the world’s social and political setting is fresh enough where you can go into it and it feels standalone. If you haven’t played the games and read the books you’re not going to know who Triss Merigold is, or Dandilion or people like that. But the cool thing about an RPG is that you can open up your journal and read a page of text to figure out exactly who they are, instantly.
So the information is going to be there so they can get it if they really want it. But they don’t need it to really enjoy the game. But as a studio we’re aware of that and we’re doing whatever we can to solve it.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is out in 2014 on PlayStation 4.