The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Interview with Fabian Mario Doehla, the Studio Communications Manager at CD Projekt Red

It’s no secret that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been pegged as one of the year’s most anticipated releases, with massive amount of gamers eagerly awaiting the final instalment in the trilogy. Gamecca sat down with Fabian Mario Doehla, the Studio Communications Manager at CD Projekt Red, to talk about what we can expect from the game.

Obviously the big story is that Witcher has gone open-world. For a game that has traditionally had such a tightly scripted plot, with so many possibilities and interweaving plotlines, how has open-world gameplay affected what has historically been two difficult elements to meld?

We had to get a lot more quest writers and senior story writers, which was the main area we had to invest in. We’ve got a separate section in the studio which is just people working on quests, that’s all they do. They know the books and the novels, and I think that’s where we’ve put in the most hours and effort, because creating a big world is not the most difficult thing. I mean you’ve got to adjust the engine and make sure its looks right, but then you’ve got to fill it with life.

Being open-world you’ve had to add a whole range of new mechanics, like mounted combat and sailing, what else can we expect? What are people going to sit down and think to themselves, “I’ve never seen this before in a Witcher game”?

Airborne enemies, larger enemies and even the graphics in general are something you’ve never seen in any Witcher game before. Hardware has obviously evolved, and the good thing is that Witcher is one of those games that doesn’t have to take care of the PS3 or Xbox 360 anymore, so we didn’t have to scale it down in order to make it run on last-gen hardware. When you boot it up for the first time and you’re playing through the prologue it’s going to be the graphics where you’ll say, “OK, that just looks amazing.” I’m not saying the previous games looked bad, back in the day, but it’s just been a huge step forward.

So Witcher 3 is going to involve the Wild Hunt, with Geralt searching for Yennefer now. Plot-wise the Witcher games have always been dark, with mature themes. Are we going to be seeing the same difficult moral choices in the game?

Definitely. We’ll have a few surprises, but by no means is it a perfect world, especially if you look at No-Man’s Land with all the creatures and choices you’ll have to make. Sometimes there simply won’t be a good option; there’ll always be a bad consequence. That’s why we’ve ended up with so many different endings, and when I say different endings it’s not just Geralt wearing different armour in the last cutscene. There’ll be both good and bad surprises.

How heavily are you drawing on the short stories and novels?

It’s actually quite loose. If you know them it helps you, because you’re like, “I know that. Oh this character’s here, that’s really cool, I’m finally going to meet that person.” But we have a lot of freedom.

Are there any other influences that have crept in over the years?

When it comes to deciding on some of the creatures and filling the world with life, yeah definitely, but we’re trying to stick as close to the general feel of the setting as possible. Of course everyone is playing other games, but their influence is more related to the user interface, or how another game has accomplished something. We’ve also asked what people did not like about Witcher 2, which has been the largest factor.

Following on from that, what did you learn from the feedback from Witcher 2 that is now going to be different in Witcher 3?

Definitely work on the combat system. I think there was a huge improvement in combat from Witcher 1 to Witcher 2; there was a lot of criticism aimed at the combat in the first game. We’ve also looked at some of the menus and their accessibility, and you can now actually prepare for a battle by using your Witcher sense to see how tough an enemy is going to be. We haven’t completely changed everything because we think we have a working system. It’s more like a new version of a car, you do a facelift when it comes to the menu and you say, “What didn’t people like, what kept crashing? What wasn’t really well-balanced and where was there negative feedback?” That’s all been reworked.

There was some criticism levelled at the upgrade system. What are we going to see different this time?

I remember that if you focussed on playing a warrior it became too strong, so we’re looking to balance things out. Also we’ve got weapon upgrades, where you can upgrade ammunition. For example if you take the crossbow, if I get this right, you start with a single arrow and you can upgrade it up to three bolts. If you want to you can put in a lot of time crafting items and working on armour.

So essentially what we’ve got is the Witcher experience with a vast amount of freedom?

Definitely. We don’t want to reinvent the Witcher. Someone recently said that it’s just more of the Witcher, and yeah, it’s more a really great game with great graphics and the freedom of choice to go wherever you want.

How do you think it’s going to change people’s perceptions of the franchise as a whole now that they really can do what they like?

The only way to really find out how the perception would change would be to create another Witcher 3 that was more scripted, and then compare the opinions of the people who bought it. Obviously we’ll be unable to do so, but we did a lot of research and found this to be the next step to take it further. We can’t tell in advance, but we think this is the right way because it feels like we don’t having to push people too much. If you have this classic “don’t go there, turn around, you can’t progress further until you’ve done this and that” it always reminds you that you’re stuck in a corridor in a game. Open-world, especially when it comes to a fantasy RPG’s, should always be the goal I think, even if it’s the most complicated approach.

In terms of world size, how large will Witcher 3 be?

We’ve talked about eight by eight kilometres, which makes it sixty four square kilometres, but then we’ve got three additional areas as well. We’ve haven’t had anyone as yet who’s walked from the very bottom to the very top. You’ll have to use fast travel when you progress further in the game. And you can jump finally! You can jump, swim, dive… It’s funny when you speak about it but Geralt wasn’t able to jump back in the day.

Will Witcher 3 end Geralt’s story?

That’s our plan, to end the party with bang.

So what will CD Projekt Red be doing next?

Well we’ve got Cyberpunk 2077, which is out next huge project, but we’ll talk about that once the Witcher is out. We’re definitely not planning any additional Witcher games, we always planned for it to be a trilogy. We just hope that people will like the climax of the series. In fact we’re looking forward to the players’ reactions.

Just to end, what is your personal favourite aspect of Witcher 3?

I know it sounds a bit dull but it’s the graphics. When I played it on my machine the first time, with everything set to max, I was walking through some swamp with sunlight filtering through the trees and I discovered some old decrepit house and I was just blown away. And then you climb up a mountain and look over the landscape which has an amazing view, and just to know that you can walk there. Ultimately it’s just the general look and feel of the game.
Thanks gamecca

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