CD Projekt on The Witcher II
Despite problems surrounding the graphic cards needed for their game's demonstration today, Senior Producer Tomasz Gop and Level Designer Marek Zimak look positively chilled on their large white sofas at the Eurogamer Expo. And why shouldn't they? CD Projekt's The Witcher was a great surprise in terms of reception and sales, players the world over enjoying the unique combat and unusual maturity of witcher Geralt's bloody adventure. Of course the guys aren't fazed.
Three years on from the first game's release, The Witcher II is gathering up steam as CD Projekt look to build upon that success. But the studio hasn't been prepared to sit on its laurels, with wholesale changes around things like the engine and the combat ensuring that the game will be a completely new beast. But along with all that has come renewed controversy about the game's sexual content, resurfacing the criticism of the first game's 'sex cards' in particular. So as I settle in on my own large white sofa, I ask Tomasz and Marek about all these things and more about The Witcher II, and also touch on their thoughts about CD Projekt subsidiary Good Old Games.
How surprised were you guys by the critical reaction to and the commercial success of The Witcher, and in particular the staggering sales of 1.5m for a new IP on PC?
Tomasz Gop: I think that every starting developer has the thought that he could do well with his game so we weren't totally taken aback by the success. But yeah, we're happy, we're extremely happy that everything worked, the pieces came together, and that we pulled it off, actually. It's great, but we're not thinking that a miracle happened; we really worked hard for this.
CD Projekt is based in Poland, which is interesting as there are only a few Polish game developers involved within the mainstream industry. What has the success of The Witcher done for the industry in Poland? It must have had some impact.
TG: The entering threshold is still really big because you have to invest quite a lot of money to get a triple-A title anywhere in the world but especially in Poland. If you want to do a triple-A title you have to invest money at prices counted as they would be in Poland, and it's even more money than you would think of any other product that is Polish. But the mindset and the awareness of media and of everyone in Poland have changed. People recognize The Witcher, and many people don't consider games as kiddie-play right now, so it is good. On the other hand, investing money in Poland is still... we'll still need a few years before people start investing huge amounts of money.
So you're here at the Eurogamer Expo promoting The Witcher II. Which areas from the first game have you targeted as needing improvement in the sequel?
Marek Zimak: The combat system is one of the main features we've changed. The things connected to the storyline were improved but they were enriched - they were already good...
TG: They were good, and we didn't want to mess around with them.
MZ: Yeah, we didn't want to mess around with them too much. But the combat system, some of the people didn't really get it. It wasn't something we wanted to have in The Witcher II. We believed we had a better vision of it so we redesigned it and we recreated it in The Witcher II. It's different and it's a little bit more dynamic. It's easier to use and maybe harder to master, but it's what we were looking for. So that's one of the systems for sure that's been totally redesigned.
TG: For example, some people complained about The Witcher's combat being too hardcore or not intuitive, but at the same time there were a lot of people who liked the combat in that game. So we thought, "OK, let's keep the depth, let's keep the system that is rich in features, but at the same time let's try to not make everything obligatory." So, for example, you'd don't have to do time-based clicking in combat in The Witcher II. But still, if you want to play on a higher difficulty setting, you have to utilize advanced techniques like combining strikes, combining magic with strikes, doing your own combos, building up things that are insane. But the entering threshold is lower for combat.
So there's a bit more scope now, you can appeal to a bigger audience.
TG: We definitely take into consideration everything the community says. So if there are some people that tell us it's not intuitive enough, it's not easy enough, then let's have an option to have it easier, and actually in The Witcher II you might be able to make your way through the combat through just button mashing.
In terms of the first game, there was a lot of controversy about its take on sexuality. Some people really liked it, other people were really turned off by it, and in particular the sex cards which were criticized for being misogynistic. You've taken the cards away in The Witcher II, but is there anything else you've done to ensure you don't get the same reaction this time around?
TG: We've extended the storytelling. I don't know about all of them, but definitely most of the romance encounters in the game are told properly and driven towards the player so that whenever he sees the naked woman, I don't know, sometimes making love with the Witcher, it actually it means making love, and not "I want to see nipples!"