I may be in the minority when I say this, but I think most open-world games don’t handle all of their sidequests really well.
You’ll get a handful of interesting ones sometimes, and then the rest will be monotonous drivel that requires the collection of some arbitrary amount of wolf pelts to appease a generic quartermaster.
Ever since CD Projekt RED announced that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will mark the series’ first attempt at creating a full-blown open world, I admit that those same woes about repetitive sidequests have been a worry on my mind.
Yet after watching the latest hands-off demonstration of the game earlier this month at E3 2014, I caught up with Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, the director behind the next Witcher title to rap about sidequests, along with other aspects of the game.
You could say this is a sequel to the interview with Tomaszkiewicz at last year‘s E3.
Patrick: Thank you Konrad for taking the time to talk a little bit about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Konrad: Thank you very much, I hope that you liked the presentation.
P: Yeah, it was very interesting. Something that has always been on my mind when it comes to open world games, particularly RPGs, is the focus on sidequests. Something that I’ve noticed with a lot of open-world RPGs is that sidequests can eventually become repetitive and throwaway. How does one keep sidequests fresh during development? Realistically, is there time in a game’s development cycle to truly make each sidequest unique?
K: Yes, of course. Our goal is to create a new experience in open-world [games]. Many companies [like] doing these repetitive quests because it’s quite easy.
P: Like “collect a bunch of items…”
K: Like collecting. It’s filling the world [easily], and gives you something to do, but the question is if it’s [something] to enjoy, and in my opinion, no. I don’t like it in games, I don’t like doing it. And if I need to go throughout the whole world to find letters or stuff like that. It’s pretty boring.
P: Admittedly, The Witcher 1 and 2 sort of had a few of those collecting quests…
K: Yeah, a few of them. But you know, it’s about balance. Right now, we’ve got a different approach. We’ve got a few layers of a quest. The first layer is, of course, the main quests, which are huge. Every main quest is longer than it was in The Witcher 2. Usually it takes three hours to go through a main quest.
The second layer is the sidequests, and they are also [pretty] long. The third layer are the monster hunter quests, and those are a little smaller but they are built on the idea to show the feeling of how to be a witcher, which was shown really well in the books. In these quests you are approaching villages, the towns [of] people who have problems with monsters, and then you’re doing an investigation. You’re getting knowledge of what the monster is, and then you need to prepare for combat, and if you don’t have the whole [background] of the monster, you will probably not defeat him. It is good to find the [knowledge within] the books. When you’ve got this wisdom, you know the weak spots of the monster. You can “turn off” some of his abilities, and it is much easier to approach this monster.
And the last thing is [that] the weather impacts the strength of the monster. Then you are killing this monster, taking the trophy, going to the questgiver and [from there] you can [negotiate] the money [owed], like it was in the books. Of course, they want to [shortchange] you, like always, and then you’re getting the money.
The next layer of the quests are the minigames. We’ve got a collectible card minigame from the books, and we’re building a sidequest around it, also. We’ve got a horse racing minigame, and we’ve got a boat racing minigame.
K: Yeah, that was one of the horse races. The next layer is the small encounters in the world. We decided that we will not do repetitive quests, at all. But we will create many small quests which have small storylines, but also interesting ones. You can find a lot of them in the game. I hope it makes the world more believable, and you’ll see that these people have goals, and some problems, and you can help them solve it.
The last layer is the treasure-hunting quests. We made a different approach to the alchemy and crafting this time. We decided that the most powerful recipes for the armors, weapons and alchemy will be spread around the world. Sometime ago, when the witchers’ order was strong and there was many of [them], when they discover something new, they hide it in their hideouts, and you can find the maps and information on where you should go. Of course, it’s connected to the gameplay, with cool stuff like diving [underwater] sometimes. Sometimes we find them in the monsters.
When you collect this stuff, you can upgrade your armors. We’ve got many witcher sets that have their own designs and when upgrading the stuff, it’s not only the statistics that are upgraded, but also the visual side of the armors, of the swords and so on.
P: Everything equipped is reflected [on Geralt's attire].
K: Yes, exactly. And on alchemy, I’m actually quite proud of it because I [addressed] what to do with the people who, in the [previous] games kept the potions and bombs and never used them. They’re waiting for a better time and then they got a whole inventory of this stuff and then they [never use them.]
P: Yeah, I’ve run into that issue.
K: I once woke up with the idea: “what would it be if these potions and bombs would be infinite?” But how to do it? We started to dig into this subject and we made it this way that when you’re playing, when you’re resting near the fireplace, potions will be automatically refilled, and bombs also. Like tea, let’s say. You’ve got the teabag, then you put the water in again and it will be tea again. In this approach, you don’t need to save this stuff in the inventory. You can play with it, and you can enjoy this alchemy on the full scale.
P: Will you be discovering these potions, like recipes, still? You won’t have access to everything right away.
K: No, no, no. You will discover these recipes. They are hidden in this witcher hideout and you can ask, “okay then why should I gather these herbs in the world?” And there is a point to gather them, because we’ve made it this way that every potion’s got three levels, bombs also. You find the recipes and upgrade your stuff to be even more powerful.
P: Will you be able to bunch up on potions? You can use one, and then refill it later, but can you have multiple uses in a given moment?
K: Yeah, actually we’ve got two types of potions. One of them are mutagens, and most potions you’re taking in the preparation mode, and those potions have got a very long duration, but also give you a lot of toxicity. And you’ve got small potions, which are used instantly in combat. They give you less toxicity, and they also refill in the inventory. And you’ve got these stacks of these potions, the smaller ones.
P: You were mentioning the other witchers in the game, and I noticed in the trailer it actually shows the witchers from the prologue of The Witcher. So I’m wondering, what exactly happened to them? After the prologue in The Witcher, you never see them for the rest of that game, and you don’t see them in The Witcher 2.
K: You will meet them, and I don’t want to spoil the story because they are quite important in the story. There is a lot of stuff you’re doing with them and you know their past in the books. The story is our most important part. That’s why I don’t want to speak too much about this, you know, to break the fun.
P: I understand. So I want to move on to the graphical aspects of The Witcher 3. I was wondering if you have a date set for releasing PC requirements for the game.
K: Actually, we’re still optimizing the game and it’s too early to do it. You know, the game needs to work on next-gen, and this will be probably one of the specs. For sure, for PC gamers, we’ll be doing something better to give them the possibility to enjoy the extra graphics.
P: I know with The Witcher 2, the engine was kind of future-proofed, in the sense that you could check off ubersampling, which most machines at the time couldn’t run. So it was kind of future-proofing the game for later machines. Is that something you’re planning on implementing into The Witcher 3?
K: Actually, we’ve got [ubersampling] in the PC version of The Witcher 3, and we’ve got it on the consoles already, and it works.
P: So it doesn’t really need to be an extra option?
K: No, no. It doesn’t have to be an extra option. We think to discover some new processes which will make the game even better.
P: Do you find it difficult to have newcomers going into The Witcher 3 without having played 1 and 2? I am aware that the game is coming with a summary of what happened with the first two games’ stories…
K: Actually, no. We made The Witcher 3 as a standalone game, and in the prologue we decided after our experience with The Witcher 2, to make it more smooth. The learning curve is more smooth. We not only teach you how to play, but we teach you “what is a witcher, what is he doing, who are the people around him, what are his motivations?” and so on and so on. From this point, all people who start from The Witcher 3 will have great fun and understand everything. And of course, we also care about guys who played the first and the second Witcher and we’re allowing [them] to import the saves, and people who played previous games will get additional content in the game.
P: Has it been confirmed whether you can import the Xbox 360 save of The Witcher into the Xbox One version?
K: Actually, we are still struggling with it, but we will do everything to make it. If it will be impossible, then we will do it another way, because we’re thinking also about adding dialogue which can set up the world state for you, and to give the possibility to players who cannot move the saves like on PS4, or use their saves to make the state of the game from The Witcher 2 and just enjoy the game.
P: Do you think that, given that PS4 and Xbox One are so much closer to PC architecture, do you think it will be technically feasible to have The Witcher 2 saves from PC work on PS4?
K: It depends on Sony and Microsoft. They’ve got strict rules, and I know that some games are doing it.
P: Grand Theft Auto V (on PC, PS4 and Xbox One) is actually doing it.
K: Yes, Grand Theft Auto V, but they’re doing it through their own servers. Maybe in the GOG end, and [if] our servers allow it, we’ll try the same solution. We’ll see, we still work on it.
P: Moving on to the music with this game, which is phenomenal, by the way. I really love the trailer music in particular. Is that the Warsaw Village Band that’s in the soundtrack?
K: We’re using the sounds of the Percival band from Warsaw. They are really awesome and we really appreciate that we worked with them. But the whole music is composed by our house composer, Marcin Przybyłowicz, who is really a genius with this stuff. I love this music, it’s something unique in the game.
P: He’s the main composer working on it?
K: Yes, he’s the main composer of the game.
P: All of the tracks, it was all him?
K: We’re working on it together. He’s composing it, then I’m coming to him, hearing it, we’re doing some fixes or tweaking, changes. But yeah, he’s the main composer and without him, we’ll lose 80 percent of the feeling in my opinion.
P: So my final question. The standard, $59.99 edition of The Witcher 3 on all the consoles and PC is coming with so many bonuses, like a soundtrack, instruction manual — you don’t see instruction manuals with console games anymore. So why decide on something like that? I figured most publishers don’t do that anymore in order to cut costs, because of the expense.
K: The answer is easy, we care about the players. We don’t think we need to go with the stream. Actually, we’re doing everything in the opposite way. Like, the DRM on the PC is the same, we don’t put DRM in the game because we don’t believe that it makes the experience of the game better. Why, when you lose [internet] connection you cannot play a single player game? It’s stupid, and the same is with the boxes. Some years ago everyone put a lot of stuff into boxes, and actually I enjoy it as a player, and everyone in the studio also. Yes, it’s more costly, but in the end it will give more enjoyment to people and I hope they will support us even better and they will buy our games.
P: Well Konrad, thank you very much again for taking the time.
K: Thank you.
You can check out a brief excerpt of what was shown in this year’s hands-off preview on YouTube.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is set for release on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on Feb. 24, 2015.