Art Producer Stan Just : The Witcher 3 Biggest RPG Ever Made

How has working with the new consoles been for you?

I wouldn't say that it has been easy. It has certainly been a challenge. The Xbox One and PS4 are new for us as designers and new for our engine, so we’ve had to adjust our engine to accommodate the hardware and make sure everything works as we intend it to. Our engine is designed to be able to handle the next-gen systems, though.

So we manage okay [laughs].We used a lot of the multi-platform experience we gained from working on the 360 port of The Witcher 2, but many people that have joined the studio since we released The Witcher 2 have a lot of experience working on multi-platform games as well. We feel like we’re prepared for the new consoles, yeah.

You added a tutorial in the ‘Enhanced Edition’ of The Witcher 2; has that made you think more closely about how you teach players the mechanics of The Witcher 3 ?

Definitely it has, yes. Last month the studio was dedicated specifically to tutorials, so we know that’s something we need to include and it’s something we’ve developed heavily. From the very start, as far as I’m concerned, the way we teach players has been vastly improved. I was guilty of the opposite on The Witcher 2. I was too static when it came to talking about including a tutorial system.

Are there a lot of new things that returning players will need to learn?

I would say that the controls themselves have changed a little bit because the combat system has been revamped. Still, despite that, I think it will be rather easy for returning players to learn the new controls. I guess I would describe the combat as easy to learn and hard to master.

In the demo it was said that getting between the two places shown would take around 20 minutes on a sprinting horse…

Yeah, that’s right. Unfortunately, we haven't tasked anybody on the testing team to find out how long it would take to get across the entire world that we’ve built. For a start, you couldn’t get across all of it just using a horse at times you would have to climb a mountain and at other times you would have to sail a boat or dive through underwater passage ways. It’s huge, really. It's massive.

The mountain in the demo can be climbed in any number of ways. Do you need to handcraft environments to achieve this?

That’s right, yeah. This is an open-world game, but we've refrained from procedural generation of our environments and the places within them. Each environment, each hut, each point of interest, everything has been handcrafted by our level designers so that every little detail fi ts the quests and the general approach we want to take with the world.

It requires a lot of work. At the same time, though, it provides a level of intensity for the player. We want to preserve the story-driven gameplay that we had in previous games, but we’re in an open world and so it’s harder to do that. The only option is to handcraft everything.

Has it been more difficult to tell an engaging story in the open-world setting?

Yeah, it’s definitely difficult to do that. What’s also difficult is to fi ll out the world with enough quests to do, while also making sure that those quests feel related to one another in some way.

You have a lot of choices that you can make in the game, and they come in all shades of grey, so it’s difficult for us to work out all the intricacies and the relationships between those decisions. What you need to remember, though, is that the world in Wild Hunt is experiencing political turmoil there’s a war going on when you start the game. Even though you will stumble across a side quest at some point, it will be a side quest

that is grounded by that wider situation. A side quest about a force occupying a village might be a separate plot in itself and have a beginning and an end, but it’s also a plot that is grounded within the bigger storyline and the war.

Designing things that way allows us to make sure the story is always being driven forward and informed by things that you are doing. These things are optional to do but if you do them you will fi nd they are still part of the bigger picture.

 So you’re keeping away from what, in other games, can seem like distractions…

[Laughs] No, you won’t be doing things like searching for feathers.

Now that The Witcher games are well established, do you still look much to the books for inspiration?

I would say that Wild Hunt is a very specific part of the series in that we have included a lot of characters from the books and a lot of plot lines that have been mentioned in the books. Some of those plots are continued in the game, so if you’re a fan of the novels then you will hopefully be entertained when you explore that.

One plot might have ended in the books but in Wild Hunt we pick up from there and create a different plot from that point forward. So, even though this is a standalone story and a standalone game, the people that have read the novels and played the previous games will pick up on additional layers of depth here.

So you don’t need to have played previous games to grasp the plot?

The fi rst thing you need to know about this is: don’t worry about it. Even newcomers to The Witcher will understand everything that is going on in the world, it is carefully explained to you. The most important events from previous plots will be recapped, but there’s really no need to worry as this is a standalone game in its own right.

Underwater sequences/swimming are new to The Witcher 3. Are these a ‘big’ thing? Do you need to perform much of this?

It might be a big thing for you, if you enjoy those underwater parts and exploring them. There’s a lot of weird creatures living under the water and there are a lot of treasures and some quests that require you to spend time underwater. Some of the islands in the game force you to travel through water to get there and sometimes you will have to enter underwater areas to locate everything.

What are the key ingredients to making a fantasy world feel realistic?

Many developers of fantasy games do lose that element of believability to their worlds and characters. We try to be realistic in different ways and across different topics.

Sometimes you’ll see someone in other games wearing a piece of armour that is just ridiculous; no one could ever wear it in real life and they certainly couldn't move around or do anything in it. For us, when we discuss armour we talk about everything… from where the belt should be placed, whether the armour is practical and useful, and, perhaps most importantly, does it look and behave like something Geralt would actually use? That also applies to all the different items and weapons.
Many of our initial designs change because of those discussions. We might decide that something we have is stupid and just doesn't fi t into the world or relate to any kind of real life situation. There’s a lot of effort put into getting that right.

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