At the recent Eurogamer Expo 2010, we were lucky enough to sit down with Tomasz Gop and Marek Ziemak, both of CD Projekt Red, about their upcoming title, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings. We were part of a roundtable, so not of all the questions below came from Game Rant. Unless specified with 'GR:', assume the question came from our friends over at DealsPwn. And now, for the interview...
Q: How does The Witcher 2 step it up above The Witcher?
Tomasz Gop: It's really important to start off with a few different facts: we're not doing a totally different game here. Seriously, we're really happy that a lot of people liked The Witcher, so we're really sticking to the same principles. I mean, the story is going to be at least as deep as it was in The Witcher -- we're still basing the game on the story, it's the main feature of the game. And, of course, we're going to be telling a mature, non-linear, engrossing story... but in regards to the things we've changed: we've improved on the things that people liked, and deeply changed the things that people complained about. So, story is definitely still going to be around; it's going to be the story of a morally questionable world where you never know what's going to happen, where you need to think about what you would do, and not about what you would do if you wanted the game to recognise you as a good or bad player. And we've changed combat, for example, because some people thought it might've been too hardcore in The Witcher. We've done a lot to keep the same level of complexity, but not everything is obligatory.
What I really want to tell you is that: it's the same kind of game. It will be the same kind of game.
Marek Ziemak: And, remember, there's totally different technology in the background right? So...
Q: Right, because [The Witcher] had Aurora, and now this is a new engine.
TG: The first one had the Aurora Engine, yeah. After doing [The Witcher], we thought "Ok, if we want to progress with the game further, if we want to implement new ideas... Aurora won't do this time." Ok, there are things that we want to change deeply and there are things that we only want to improve, but even for these smaller improvements, it still was not enough to use Aurora. That's why we just sat down and implemented our engine, it took a year or a year and a half for prototyping things and so on... We started doing this right after the release of the first game, and after we'd [finished the engine], this is when The Witcher 2 started on the new engine.
Game Rant: So, you say that it's going to be quite similar to The Witcher; if this is the first time someone had seen The Witcher series, why would they want to start with The Witcher 2? What is compelling about this game, when compared to the first one?
TG: Just like The Witcher, this still is a game in its own: it's a totally separate chapter. I mean, you don't have to play The Witcher to know what's going on in The Witcher 2, and besides that, the game still introduces everything that's important to you, without telling the whole story of the first game. In case you don't know, or don't care, whatever's the case, you don't have to play The Witcher.
MZ: But we still encourage players to go and play it!
TG: It would be great! *Laughs* Yeah, it would be perfect if people played the first game. But why would people want to play The Witcher 2? Well, it's a game that... Alright, we're developers that have played a lot of RPGs 'back in the day', and that's what we wanted to do; we wanted to do the game that way. This is the reason why we created The Witcher series, both the first and second games; we're just creating the RPG game the way we believe they should be done, and so this is how we approach it.
Q: You say you've changed the combat; is it more action-heavy now, or is it still very much a traditional RPG?
MZ: It's much more dynamic, for sure.
TG: Well, it is but... The first one was dynamic, totally, but for some people, they said it was too hardcore. Some players are mainly about story, some RPG players, and there is a huge niche of these guys, and they said "Don't burden me with this! There are complex controls and time-based clicking sequences and everything, and I don't want to do this!" So in The Witcher 2, there is a lot of complexity, at least as much as in The Witcher, but you don't have to do it immediately. There are no time-based clicking sequences; if you want to do combos, they are advanced. You can find out how to do fast and strong strikes, how to throw magic in between the strikes, and so on and so on, but you don't have to. You can just mash your button and you will swipe through the combat if you want to.
GR: So you've said before that a big aspect of the game is its story, and that the storyline of the game dynamically changes. And you've said that there are... how many different endings have you said?
GR: Sixteen, right. So...
MZ: But it's important to understand that it's like, sixteen states of the world that you can actually see at the end. It's not just like, you know, sixteen different cutscenes.
TG: Some differences are really huge, like different locations, but others are like, someone's alive or someone's dead.
GR: So, how hard is it to program for something like that? How hard is it to start at the beginning and say "Ok, so some players might go through this path, but they might change halfway through it, or they might change at the very beginning and go left instead of right. How do you work and think about that during the game's production?
MZ: It's easier when you think about it from the very beginning, and that's what we did. After The Witcher, we already knew that we were making a non-linear game -- that was one of the base concepts behind the game -- so we prepared the engine, we prepared our development process, to be ready to have this huge non-linearity in the game. So, it wasn't very difficult but, of course, it takes much more testing; you know, you've got to test everything like sixteen times, at least! *Laughs* But, then again, we were ready for it. We had it in The Witcher, and it's just extended in The Witcher 2, but it's a progress, it's not something that's completely new.
TG: Well, it's easy. You just spend a year implementing the engine that's ready for it. That's the way you can do it. It's like our engine has been sewn for this, it's been made especially to implement non-linear stories. It's the main feature of this engine.
Q: In terms of the new engine, what sort of spec computer are you going to have to have to run this? Are we looking at mid-range, or will you require a higher-end machine to run The Witcher 2?
TG: Well, it depends on what you want to see! I mean, there will be features that will run on the latest hardware, but where we are presenting the games -- either here, at Gamescom, or at E3 -- it was a decent machine, I mean, I would like to have one like that in my home! But it wasn't 'top-notch', it's just a decent computer. And by the time we release The Witcher 2, it will be closer to the middle segment.
MZ: And still, again, we haven't optimized the game too much yet. It's a brand new engine, so we've got a lot of new features, and we just need the time to optimize the new engine.
TG: We don't have the specific requirements yet, I mean, we're not ready for that. But we can promise that, if you want to play the game smoothly, it will be doable, not only on, like, the £3,000 piece machines.
MZ: It's going to be scaleable.
GR: You mentioned 'When it comes out, the sort of computer will be mid-range'; are you still aiming for a Spring 2011 release?
TG: Definitely. Q1, yeah.
Q: Thinking about platforms for a moment, there have been rumors about a possible console release. Is it going to happen?
TG: Well, there's nothing announced yet. We're doing our best, seriously. We would love to do that. We even tested the engine, to see if it would be doable!
MZ: Yeah, that's the hard part for us, trying to work with the engine. But the PC platform... that's what's being developed right now.
GR: What about The Witcher? Obviously, although The Witcher 2 is a separate story, if you were to eventually bring The Witcher 2 to console, do you think that The Witcher could also see a console release?
TG: Ah, well, mmm... There was, once, a *laughs* failed project that we already tried that with. Bringing a The Witcher remake to the consoles, but we didn't succeed. There were many reasons for this, but we're still thinking about doing it, albeit it in a different way. The idea is: that thought, that project, that possibility, is on our minds, but we're not doing anything at the moment, definitely, but someday... it's possible. I mean, I'm not promising! But yeah, it sounds like a really good idea to us, even if it's going to have to happen after The Witcher 2.
Q: In the PC marketplace right now, there's a large spectrum of thoughts about Digital Rights Management. Will there be any DRM in The Witcher 2, and if so, will it be an Ubisoft-style DRM, or something different?
TG: I know what people are worried about these days; I definitely know that and, although I cannot confirm any details right now, I can put you at ease that it's not going to be Ubisoft-style. Definitely not. We're just thinking that we don't really want to do any really hardcore DRM. If we do DRM? Well, there might be some, but we just don't want to interrupt or inconvenience people. We don't want to spoil their fun!
MZ: We don't want to create problems!
GR: Whenever I play PC games, I generally tend to get them on the Steam marketplace. Will The Witcher 2 come to Steam?
TG: Most probably.
GR: That's good because, on the whole, if a game isn't available on Steam, I don't buy it!
TG: You will. *laughs*
Q: Going back to some more core aspects of the game, you place narrative as a main concern; could you give us a little rundown of the story? Obviously, at the end of The Witcher, there's an attempted assassination of the King, but the assassin turns out to be a Witcher...
TG: You have finished the first one, right? So you've seen the outro of the first game. I mean, in a way, it proves that we already thought about the second game while developing the first one. So, where you are in the second game. It is a direct sequel, there's like a month or two gap between the games, some things have happened, but they're all explained, and the idea is that you take up right after the first game. The assassination at the end of the first game was not successful, the king doesn't feel safe, and so he asks you for his help to restore order in Tymeria because, although most of the rebellion has been quelled, there are still one or two spots that need to be tended to. And this is what you're going to do. You're helping out the king with the very last place in Tymeria that's still in a rebellious state; it's called La Valette castle, and this is the place where you start the first game. Of course, Geralt would love to pursue the trail of these assassins of kings, because that's what he's really interested in, and that will eventually become the main plot of the second game.
And so concludes part one of our interview. Check back tomorrow on Game Rant for the second half, where the CD Projekt Red guys talk about the game's literary influences, censorship, and what really differentiates The Witcher 2 from other RPG titles.