CD Projekt Red has shepherded its Witcher franchise
from unknown property with the first game in 2007, to one of the
most anticipated games of E3 2014 for its third and final
instalment, The Wild Hunt. Centred on monster hunter
Geralt of Rivia, the series is loosely inspired by the grim fantasy
novels of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The Witcher
series is also known for its challenging approach to combat, which
requires players prepare for each battle with appropriate potions
and weapons. With the new game switching to a gargantuan open-world
gameplay environment, Lead Producer Piotr Krzywonosiuk speaks with
Wired.co.uk about wrapping up the saga, challenging gameplay, and
making great games on strict budgets.
Wired.co.uk: It looks you’re going out on a high point
with the Witcher trilogy. Do you have any sadness over
winding down the franchise?
Piotr Krzywonosiuk: Well, yes and no. We’ve been
working on the franchise for over twenty years now, in one form or
another. It’s been a part of our lives for such a long time, so of
course we’re going to feel nostalgic. On the other hand I feel like
The Wild Hunt is the ultimate story of the franchise, and
now it’s set in an open world. That’s always been our dream. Now
it’s possible and it’s happening. So it’s really positive and it
gets us going.
Now that you’re on next gen, have you considered doing a
Honestly, I don’t think so but you’d have to ask the business
guys. Right now it’s all about The Wild Hunt and after
that there are other things, like Cyberpunk 2077.
When you came out with the first Witcher, you were quite
an unknown studio. Do you think you’re now defined as “the
I think that’s partially true, but our fans think of us as “those
guys who make good RPGs”. I don’t think there’s going to be demand
for another Witcher game — obviously there’ll be some
expectations, because there always are, but I don’t think they’ll
be disappointed when we release our next game. We’ll be staying
within the RPG genre.
The Wild Hunt is open world, but still seems to
be heavily story driven. How have you kept a tight narrative while
giving players freedom to explore?
[The story] is a bit more complicated. Geralt is searching for a
girl named Siri. She plays an important role in the books we based
the game on, and the games as well. She’s always been important to
Geralt and it’s what The Wild Hunt is all about. It’s all
about Geralt and his search for his loved ones. We get to show
characters we mentioned in games but couldn’t show, such as the
sorcerer Yennefer who’s the love of Geralt’s life. The search
allows for that exploration.
Geralt in this game seems a lot more compassionate than
in the other games – your demo shows him being quite kind to the
godling creature, Johnny. Has he softened with time?
I don’t know. I don’t see it that way. It’s interesting. Johnny is
an innocent creature who will help him, so I think it’s appropriate
in that one context, but we’ve prepared over a hundred hours of
gameplay. You’ll see Geralt in tons of different situations and
approaches. What really matters is the game’s fundamentals –
choices matter and it’s all about consequences. It’s up for the
players to drive the story how they want and based on what they do,
Geralt will be this or that.
You also spotlight a trio of powerful witches. Are they
inspired by the Weird Sisters from Macbeth?
It’s weird that you ask that and you’re from England! You’re the
second person from England to ask me that. I actually don’t know. I
have to find out now. They have the same broad similarities — the
maiden, the mother, the crone. It’s a bit twisted, but they fit
that archetype. I have to check that out.
What bits of real-world lore and mythology have factored
into the game?
Well, the games are based off Andrzej Sapkowski’s series of
best-selling fantasy novels [but] our inspirations come from
different places. We’re fans of RPG games, we all watch different
kinds of movies but we’re all fantasy fans. In The Witcher
3, what’s important for us is to show Slavic inspirations. The
No Man’s Land, an area called Vellum, is strongly inspired by
Slavic mythology. Even the architecture and creatures you meet will
come from that. One of my favourite areas in the game is an
archipelago of islands in the sea, and it’s more based on Nordic
mythology. The people you meet and places you see will remind you
of Vikings. And the Wild Hunt
itself is based on a common myth across much of Europe.
The scale of the game seems immense. What made you want
to give you such a lot of work?
For me, personally, as the producer, it’s close to my heart
because that’s one of the biggest challenges. We’ve made awesome
games that tell awesome stories and now we’re taking it to the next
level — to the next seven levels! — by making it open world. It’s
massive. There’s about hundred hours of gameplay and the world is
35 times bigger than in The Witcher 2. And it’s full of
sidequests, monster hunting, minor quests. This is what we’ve
working on for many years. It’s the ultimate RPG for us. We’ve used
all the experience we’ve gained and now the technology available
lets us make it open world.
You mentioned the books before. How much input has
Sapkowski had in the games?
None at all. Sometimes with The Witcher 1 and 2
we’d consulted with him for names of places on a map, things that
should stay in common, but that’s about it.
Sapkowski’s work ranges from short stories to full
length novels. Are you adapting anything specific from the prose
The story has never been told before. It’s our story. Obviously
some of the characters and plots were in books one way or another
because it’s the same universe. But it’s a standalone story from
Is the combat still as challenging as the series is
The answer is yes and no. If you want challenging combat and
you’re a hardcore gamer, you can play it that way. But for some
people challenging is a negative word. We want to make sure that
combat is smooth and intuitive, and we’re taking different measures
to make that happen. One example is we’re tweaking the lock-on
system right now. We’ve got two cameras. One is more cinematic and
the other goes right behind the player and gives you better
control. Just to demonstrate that we’ve learned our lesson from the
The Witcher 2 — we don’t want people bitching it’s too
There are also a lot of fans who enjoy that the combat
is difficult though, with the likes of The Witcher games
and Dark Souls.
Right, and that’s great for them. I don’t think combat should be
challenging in itself because it will prevent people from enjoying
the game. There will be difficult moments — one might even be
equal to Dark Souls — that let the hardcore gamers have
So, you’re going for difficulty rather than
Are there any changes to the magic
Yeah, there are some improvements. We’re staying with the five
magic signs that Geralt can use. There are two aspects to each
spell. For instance the fire spell Igni can be cast quickly to put
some fire about, but you can hold the button and use it as a
flamethrower. Every sign has two states, so to speak, and all of
them are upgradable. When you develop your character, they’ll have
Will you be keeping the pre-battle preparation
Yeah, that’s a really important part of it. You can never be too
careful in The Witcher. Some monsters require specific
potions you have to prepare and use, or weapons to use. In the
other demo we showed, the monster hunt for a griffin, in order to
catch the griffin you have to craft a special bolt to catch the
beast with. That way he’ll leave a trail for you to follow with
your witcher senses. I think with The Wild Hunt we’re
going back to the roots of what it means to be a witcher. These
guys are monster hunters and we’re emphasising those elements.
Preparation is absolutely a key mechanic.
The way CD Projekt works as a studio seems really
efficient compared to other studios. You’ve done incredible things
with Witcher as well as launching GoG, all with a fraction of the
budget of other studios. How do you do it?
It all comes down to some super-talented people working in Warsaw.
I don’t have any other answer for it! I was thinking about how
Ubisoft does it. They have eight thousand people and not so many
titles. We have two hundred twenty people working on this game and
that’s massive by our standards. They’re super hard working, super
organised. And that’s it.
Is there any advantage being based in Poland — tax
breaks or anything else that might help?
Actually, I think it’s the opposite. It’s a bit harder to get
people to work in Warsaw than San Francisco or Los Angeles. But I
think we are just getting over this peak of a mountain. We have
about fifty expats working in our studio, from Asia, the Americas,
Europe. I think people are noticing there’s a jewel in Eastern
Has the success of GoG helped developing
That’s not my area, but the way I see it — absolutely. It’s
another thing that we started small and got bigger. It was an
interesting project that seems to be doing better every day.