Although most of my first E3 experience this year involved hurling myself at every game and appointment I could get my hands on, I did manage to squeeze in an interview or two. And if I was going to do at least one, it had to involve The Witcher 3 in some capacity.
Following CD Projekt RED’s behind-closed-doors gameplay presentation of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I had the pleasure to chat with the game’s director, Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, brother of Senior Quest Designer Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz (whom I interviewed way back at PAX East ’12), about the game’s development, lessons learned from The Witcher 2, the upcoming Xbox One and PS4 and the interesting dynamic that he shares with his brother when making games.
Have a gander at the interview past the break. For more witchery, read up on my preview of The Witcher 3.
(Editor’s note: The Xbox One DRM question is obviously outdated due to recent news, but we’ve decided to keep it in.)
Thank you Konrad for taking the time to talk with me about The Witcher 3. I was actually curious to know when did development start?
The pre-production started last year. I don’t remember exactly which date it was, but we were working on it for some time. We started the production of the game this year.
Will The Witcher 3 have any ties to the novels that [Andrzej] Sapkowski has written?
Yes, of course. We always based [the games] on the Sapkowski novels and we’re using characters he mentioned in his books. And of course, we’ve got some story/plots which we want to solve in this third part, because it’s the last one. The name of the game is the “Wild Hunt.” And Sapkowski described them very well. People think that they are the wraiths from [The Witcher 2's] nightmares but actually, they are not. They are very connected with Geralt and with Yennefer right now. Geralt in the second part of [The Witcher 2] remembered that Yennefer exists; he’s the woman he’s [in love with.] And now, he’s trying to find her. That’s how the story begins. It took you to a more personal adventure in his time.
So we’ll finally discover the mystery behind Yennefer? The Witcher 2 didn’t explain too much about it, it still kept it pretty vague.
Yes, of course. It was on purpose. You know, we [wanted] to only tease the subject and now we will explain everything.
So is the lead development platform for The Witcher 3 still PC? I mean, one thing about the PS4 and Xbox One is that they have similar architectures to PCs now, so how does that change the development of it?
You know, the change is for the better way, because PS3 was extremely difficult to create [games for.] Xbox  was quite easy but, it was five years old when we created, you know, Witcher 2, and it was very hard to optimize the game this way to run it on this platform. Now, the new platforms are the next-gens. We want to first fit the game into them, and squeeze these specs to make as cool, as beautiful [of a] game as we can, and then we add some more for the PCs of course.
So the PC will always have the edge over the two console versions?
Yeah, the PC evolves all the time, you know, and consoles don’t. But, we will for sure, we will reach the limits of the next-gen.
So one thing about the Xbox One and the PS4 are its other ways of playing games, including motion control. The PS4 has a touchpad. Do you plan on implementing any of those in any way into those specific console versions?
Yes, we want to use them, and make some unique features for each platform. I think it’s too early to speak about them, but for sure we will use these systems.
Will the console version have a different sort of user interface from the PC [version]? Will it be optimized so that the menus are easier to navigate?
You know, I think that the UI needs to be very intuitive, and very easy to navigate. And, when we reach this moment, we will move it to PC and see if this is the same. If it will be, we will leave it this way. If not, we will make a change to fit it to the PC’s needs.
Witcher 2 did have some incorporation of the game save that you had from Witcher 1. Will 3 have that with 2, and will it be a little bigger than [the inclusion] of bonus armor and minor plot points?
Yes, we plan to use the saves from the previous games, and make some exclusive content for the game. It will be a few quests, and of course, changes in dialogues and, as you mentioned, small things like this. I’m not sure only if Microsoft will allow to move the saves from Xbox 360 to the cloud and then download it on the Xbox One. If they will allow [us] to do this, of course players can, you know, get this feature also.
So, definite for PC, but for Xbox One it’s up in the air.
Going into The Witcher 3’s development, what have you learned from Witcher 2 in terms of fan feedback and things that you learned as you completed it?
We got huge feedback. First of all, we learned that the beginning of the game was too hard to get through. It was too many names, too many things going on, and people can’t learn the features [like] the combat and so on, and they were confronted with the dragon, for example, and were [getting] destroyed, and they were thinking “oh my God, this is no game for me.” This time, we created a block of the game this way that it’s a standalone quest, which in the end, pushes you into the main storyline. And it’s, you know, more calm, but also cool, and we slowly teach you how to use the mechanics, how to fight, and to introduce you to the world of The Witcher. The learning curve is better now, we don’t give you some many names to remember in the beginning, and I hope that every player will go swiftly into this world.
What’s your stance on the Xbox One’s policy regarding DRM and used games, and how does that fit with [CD Projekt RED's] policy of DRM-free games, for the most part?
You know, we still got the same policy as we got before. We’re releasing the game next year, 2014, for PC, PS4 and Xbox [One]. On the first day, on PC, it will be on GOG.com without any DRMs. I think that it would be very bad for the players if we don’t give them the opportunity to play this game on these new consoles. You know, this is the policy of these companies, we cannot change them. But, I think that we should listen to the players, and if the players want to get this game on that console, it will be there. I think if someone wants to game without DRMs, they can, you know, buy a PC and download it.
You have a brother working on this project too: Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz. How’s the brother dynamic when it comes to developing games, because that’s not something you usually see in a game development studio.
Yeah, you know, sometimes it’s hard because both of us want to make as good of a game as we can. Sometimes we’ve got, you know, different opinions on the subjects and I can’t take advantage because I am his boss, so we are always trying to find compromise, and the best solution which will [garner] the most profit for the game. And, you know, I appreciate this work with him very much because he’s a very talented guy. And really, I like work[ing] with him, you know. It’s cool because, you know, in a family, if you [have grown up] with someone, you understand [each other] without words, and it’s [a] huge advantage because I catch what he wants to say, he catches what I want to say, and it’s easier to cooperate.
Do you think that gives you, like, an edge above maybe other game companies that don’t have that kind of brother dynamic?
Maybe, maybe. I hope so!
My last question for this interview: Any word on Cyberpunk? How is development going for that?
Development is going very well. Our friends [worked with] The Witcher 3 before [they moved on to] Cyberpunk. I don’t want to be involved in this process because I want to play this game. Usually, when you are a developer and you create a thing like this, after release, you cannot play it because you test it so much that, you know, you’ve got this…this…. [heavy sigh] feeling, and as I [said,] it’s going very well and I keep my fingers crossed for [the] guys and I want to play this game.
So, you haven’t had the story spoiled for you and everything like that, so I imagine…?
Not yet, not yet, I just put my fingers in my ears and don’t listen.