SDCC 2014: CD Projekt Red talks The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with us

witcher 3 header

Yesterday, we sat down for an in-depth interview, following CD Projekt Red’s stunning live-play through a mission in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

The live-play focused on a side mission that you undertake while searching for Ciri, Geralt’s “daughter-figure”. Nothing in the world of Witcher is easy, and Geralt must complete several tasks just to get information on where Ciri might be! Along the way, Geralt battled several enemies, both supernatural and “natural”…and we got to see some of the new, gory executions firsthand! We got to see the choice system in action, as well as some extremely creepy denizens of

Not only did we get to pick the brains of Rafal Jaki (Business Development at CD Projekt Red) and Michal Platkow-Gilewski (Head of PR/Marketing), but we were also joined by Doug Cockle, voice of Geralt himself!

So, without further ado…

One major thing that we noticed, is that all the characters and NPCs had closed captioning, specifically directional closed captioning, above their heads. Is that going to be a PC-specific feature, or will that be both PC and console?

Michal Platkow-Gilewski: Definitely both PC and console.

I wanted to ask about optimization. Before, you worked with a closed environment, and visually, it’s way beyond what Witcher 2 gave us. Visually, how were you able to optimize the game, and keep the environments looking that nice?

Rafal Jaki: (laughs) We’re STILL optimizing! The demo that we showed was for PC, so we’re still graphically optimizing the experience for consoles. The team is working really, really hard to actually make it as stunning both on console and  PC. It’s getting there, but there’s still a lot of work that we need to do. There are still a couple of months until release, so we’re getting there.

MPG: There’s a cool moment where the console market shifted, and now the home units are more powerful–more comparable to PC, so it’s cool because we don’t need to make a separate game for console. We can concentrate on making one great game, then work on optimizing it for console-specific issues.

 So you’re not finding an issue between the gap of current-gen consoles (PS4 and Xbox One) and PC?

RJ: The gap exists, but it’s not as big as you’d think. We had bigger problems in the past with Witcher 2. Putting Witcher 2 on Xbox 360 was a real challenge; we had to re-do the game from scratch so that it fits the Xbox’s limitations. But now, it’s a lot easier–it’s still not easy–but it’s definitely easier than with previous-gen consoles. We are in a sweet spot, luckily, with current-gen consoles and PC.

Will you have the same population densities on both PC and console?

RJ: As far as we’re aware, yes. We’re trying to make the experience as similar on PC as it is on consoles. The living world–the communities, people and towns you find–really need to be in the game, in order for it to actually work. We’re not scaling down for one console or another…it just doesn’t make sense for us. Obviously, when you have a high-end, $10,000 PC and you play the game on “Ultra” settings, maybe it’s going to look slightly better than on consoles, but the difference isn’t going to be huge.

So you’re saying to play it on a PlayStation 4, then?

RJ: (laughs) No, I’m actually going to be playing it on PC, and my wife will be playing it on the PS4, so that we can play through it at the same time!

With the game being open-world, and based around an established franchise, what were some of the challenges you encountered while trying to stay true to the source material?

RJ: The decision to make a story-driven game in an open world was the base. It’s what we wanted to do from the beginning. Our inspiration has always been to tell a good story, and we believed that the main missing element to create this living, breathing world, was to set it in an open world; so that you can do an action early on in the game, then come back to the same area later, and see the consequences of your actions. We couldn’t do something like that in Witcher 2…but here, in the open world, you can do that. Or, you can approach situations and quests from different angles. I mean, you can go to the end and kill the final boss, and then search the world for someone that’s willing to pay you for that kill; you won’t have to accept the quest first in order to ‘activate’ it. This concept was huge for us: when you’re creating a quest, you had to think not from a traditional ‘A-to-B’ mindset, but what about players who take a different route? What if they go straight to the cave to fight the creature at the start? How will the community react? How will you get paid? If there’s a monster in the woods, and you kill it, the villagers won’t be talking about ‘the danger in the woods’ any more. All of these questions were major challenges for us. The story team really had to craft a tale that was completely non-linear…we don’t refer to the main story as a storyline—it’s storylines.

What about inaction?

RJ: Yes! There will also be consequences when you don’t act. For example, if you get a quest and don’t complete it in a certain amount of time (or if you don’t talk to the right person), after awhile, you’ll go back to the original quest point, and it might be completely changed. A village might be burned, and all of it’s people killed because you didn’t act. You really need to think and manage your time  in the game; you’ll need to choose what way you want to play. You’ll have your personal story, and you’ll want to pursue your goals, but you’ll also encounter people who are in need, and you’ll have to pick and choose who to aid. The game will really test your moral compass, since you’ll need to prioritize who you help.

…And will those situations be represented by an in-world clock or timer?

RJ: It depends. When you encounter a quest where someone says ‘this is urgent…if you don’t protect us from this huge danger, we will die!’ and you choose to ignore that, it’s going to happen. Or maybe not. Maybe Nilfgards will invade the village and…


RJ: …Ok, ok! Simply put: it’s more trigger-based than time-based.

Since it’s such an open-world and non-linear, is there truly an end-game? Is there a point where you complete it…or will it just continue forever?

RJ: This is ‘the end of Geralt’s legend’ as we call it, so there will be a proper ending. From a technical, gameplay point of view, you will be able to continue on in the world after the end of the game, if you happen to have some unfinished business to complete.

So will every player have a completely different, unique experience? Is there a finite number of paths you could take?

MPG: It’s really hard to count, to be honest. There are three different epilogues that take place in different spots in the world, with about one hour of gameplay. And within each of those epilogues, you have around 12 variations based on the most important decisions you make. So there are 36 different end-states to the world, at the end of the game.  We counted 36…but there may be additional combinations that players discover when it launches.

One of our subscribers had a very specific combat question: in Witcher, he loved switching between combat styles, and wasn’t so much a fan of the streamlined combat in Witcher 2. Will Witcher 3 feature the same streamlined combat as the sequel, or will it return to it’s technical roots?

RJ: We don’t have the stances, no…but we do have a set of skills which you can pick from, and there will be slots you can assign the skills to…but you have to make a choice and trade between the style that you want to play. For example, if you use the sword mostly, you can equip a set of skills that will adjust your sword powers. On the other hand, you can adjust your skills to be more science of magic based. You can choose to push hard and do those really gory dismemberments, or you can be more quick on your feet with ducking and movement. Or you could be a tank-type of character that goes straight in. You really have to think about how you play…for example, if you’re fighting and enemy with a shield, you can use your signs to confuse him or knock him off his feet, and attempt to finish him. Or, you could choose to riposte, and use your fists to knock away his shield, which will also open up and attack him with a sword quite easily. So no, there’s no switching…but there’s a huge depth to how you’re playing your character and how he suits your style.

One button will be assigned to one sequence of animations. So if you want to do an awesome combo, that can consist of over 90 animations! It’s very responsive, and it’s something we’ve improved hugely from Witcher 2.

MPG: Five times. Five times the improvement! (laughs)

How have you evolved the choice and consequence system between Witcher 2 and Witcher 3? Did anything have to be changed?

RJ:  The basis was set by Andrzej Sapkowski in his books, so Geralt is a pretty fine character, and it’s easy to imagine how he’d behave in certain situations. There will be places where you can actually be given the choice to slaughter an entire village. Because he’s this defined character direct from the author, we don’t have to give that choice…we don’t feel guilt for what Geralt does. We would love to put other choices out there, like turning your back or something, but we want to continue the story as we’ve started it in Witcher 1 and Witcher 2; we don’t want to change Geralt. There is no obvious wrong or right path…as we simulate life in the game, you simply have to make choices, then deal with the consequences in-game. Sometimes, you’ll think you’re doing the right thing, then it’ll hit you in the nuts…(laughs) There’s no real ‘super good’ or ‘super evil’ choices…it’s all shades of gray.

…And the world will be affected by your choices?

RJ: Absolutely. Every choice you make will influence the world of Witcher; it can influence it very, very heavily…or it can change only a single person that you’ve helped. Who survives at the end of the game depends on you–even though this time around, it’s a personal story.

Can you speak more about the core story?

MPG: This time around, Geralt’s looking for his loved ones, and because of that, it’s has less grandeur in scale than Witcher 2. Even though the kings and politics are still there, and a huge war is happening, the story is more focused on Geralt and actually being a Witcher.

Doug (Cockle, voice of Geralt), how do you approach Geralt’s change…especially with that more intimate focus on Geralt and his loved ones?

Doug Cockle: I don’t think I’ve approached it any differently, really, than Witcher 1 or 2. I’ve noticed that there’s a definite evolution of the character that’s incredibly subtle in some ways. In Witcher 1, he was more emotionless and detached, while in Witcher 2 he had more of an emotional response to the things that were happening around him. In Witcher 3, the feeling I get is that there’s a wider scope of how he feels about what he’s doing. He’s more cynical at times, he’s more concerned at times…so the approach is more about going where the writers are taking the character, and allowing that to evolve…

MPG: This time around, Geralt has all of his memories back; he got this huge baggage that he didn’t have in Witcher 1, and got a portion of in Witcher 2. So now that he’s gathered all of the memories and experiences that he’s been on, and it really defines him as a mutant…and not as a human being, per-se…

DC: …But he defines himself as a human being, doesn’t he?

MPG: He does! He does! He doesn’t think of himself as a mutant or as an outcast, because he wants to be a part of the human society. But the society’s not very eager to make him feel welcome. It’s very true that he’s changing as a character, but he still acts within the boundaries of the lore…

DC: I think a big part of it, as well, is that he’s a father now in many respects…Sure, Ciri’s not his biological daughter, but that doesn’t change the way he feels about her, or the way that he goes about working with her. It’s very much a father-daughter type of relationship. I’m seeing a specific cut-scene in my head from Witcher 3, and there’s a very…I don’t want to say sentimental…moment, but certainly something that approaches that, about their relationship.

Doug, is it more enjoyable to perform something like that, with more emotional range, then?

DC: I think so, yeah. And it’ll be more interesting for the player as well, because he becomes more three-dimensional. Not that it’s a bad thing, but in Witcher 1 Geralt existed with a pure neutrailty–not only in his actions, but also in his approach. It was wonderful, but it was two-dimensional to an extent…especially compared to what’s happening now. In Witcher 3, the player can take Geralt through a their own chain of journeys, and their own personal experience of his emotional journey will change, depending on the choices that they make.

Since Witcher 3 is open world with hundreds, if not thousands of NPC’s, how much dialogue did you record in this process, and is this the longest project you’ve worked on? 

DC: It is the longest project I’ve ever worked on. I can’t give you a set number of hours, because I don’t keep track in that way.

MPG: We know…but we won’t tell! (laughs)

DC: I can probably say that we started recording way back in December 2013. And even though it hasn’t been constant throughout, but it’s a lengthy process! As the game develops and evolves, the writers add new lines and new quests and things shift and change, so it’s an evolution…

RJ: …If you take all the dialogue lines and were to put them into a book, it would be longer than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. So it’s not so small. (laughs)

MPG: In RPGs, people talk…and Geralt talks a lot!

RJ: We had to be prepared, so we recorded a lot of dialogue choices…and you won’t ever hear a large part of that, because you made a certain choice in the game. But we still had to be prepared!

MPG: All of the dialogue branches had to be recorded for every path you choose. We worked with a lot of really great actors, and we have a lot of voice overs in a lot of languages. Our localization team is amazing. They hardly ever sleep. They’re golden!

So Doug, was it hard donning the mantle of Geralt after two years?

DC: I’ve been doing it so long, that it’s really no problem at all. I do something called voice matching at the beginning of each recording session, and I go back to early lines that I had already recorded during the last session, so I can make sure that I’m hitting the same register throughout the game. But in terms of the character and the voice placement, it’s really something that I can drop into pretty easily…partly because I’ve been doing it for so long. But also, partly because it’s a variation on a voice that I get asked to do quite a bit.


Witcher 1 and Witcher 2 had unparalleled support, even now, from CD Projekt Red…Will Witcher 3 have that same degree of support?

RJ: Of course! We will always continue to support our games from a mechanical standpoint. We can’t talk much about it now, but we have some really, really cool stuff prepared for the players…because, honestly, we treat it as a service rather than just a singular game. When you buy Witcher 3, you buy the whole package and experience, in the way that it’s not only just a game that you play for 20 hours and move on to something else. We wanted it to be a really engaging experience, and at the same time, to show our gratitude to the fans that bought the game. We want to keep it true to our vision…and that’s something that we’re known for, and we’re not going to stop!

Are there any plans to release the toolkit after release, so that players can manipulate the world from a technical standpoint like you did for Witcher 1 and Witcher 2?

RJ: We did that for Witcher 1 and Witcher 2, but right now, we aren’t thinking about that for Witcher 3. Once we finish the game, we’ll see what happens.

MPG: …But we would love to tap into the modding community, because they were great for us for years and years and years! Right now, we need to concentrate on shipping the game, and when we’re done with that, we’ll certainly think about releasing a toolkit.

Speaking of modders, is there anything that the community has done in the past that inspired creations in Witcher 3?

RJ: There’s actually a funny story about that–we did a contest in the community, and the guy that won pretty much hit every gold medal. He actually came to work with us, so yes…

MPG: …Yes, we took him!

RJ: …(laughs) Yes, he absolutely contributed to Witcher 3. Of course, there were things that we saw that looked really cool, but ultimately we had a very, very specific vision for Witcher 3, and we needed it to stay consistent for it to actually work. If you begin to detatch elements, then everything crumbles. Obviously, if people do something cool, then we email that mod to everyone in the studio so that we can have a laugh, or say that we’re impressed…so yes, we obviously watch the community to see what’s new with them. Even if somebody does a cool Witcher song on Youtube or something, we’re always super excited to see it.  That inspires us, and keeps us going.

MPG: It fuels us!

Ok Doug, one more voiceover question: can gamers who haven’t played the first two games look forward to voiceovers or narrations from you, explaining what has transpired so far?

MPG: Let me jump in here, quickly…we’re going to introduce the world to newcomers in a very good way…but we’re not talking about that right now. A big part of that will happen in-game, so don’t worry! We want to be able to tell the story in such a way, that even if you didn’t play the previous games, you will know what’s happening and why. We’re working hard on the learning curve involving the storyline and with gameplay as well. You won’t be thrown into the middle of something–and you won’t start slowly, but instead, in a steady pace, which will then introduce more facts, stories and quests.

RJ: …And still, it’s not going to be at all boring for players that are invested deeply in Geralt’s storyline.

MPG: …I really love the beginning, actually!

So it’ll be more of a refresher for people who played the first two?

RJ: Even if I’m watching my favorite television show a year later, it’s nice to have a quick recap. And depending on how it’s done, it might be something like a screenshot that says “this and that happened”, or maybe it’s a cinematic, or maybe it’ll be more seamless–like, someone might ask you a question, and depending on what you answer, certain story elements might evolve from that point on.


The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is slated to be released February 24, 2015 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and is rated M for Mature! To check out all the preorder and collectors edition goodness, head over to The Witcher 3 purchase  page!



  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Buzz
  • Reddit
  • Stumnleupon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • Technorati
Author: Mick View all posts by

Leave A Response