DtW: Why is player choice important to you?
Vince: Because that’s what role-playing is all about. An RPG without choices is an adventure game with stats, and since we’re making an RPG…
DtW: How do you achieve player choice? How does that goal influence the narrative?
Vince: I assume the first question should be read as “how do you insert a choice into a story without breaking it?”. The answer is by providing multiple solutions and story arcs, which, by the way, is more logical and interesting than set-in-stone events.
Let’s take The Witcher as an example. For storytelling reasons your character is arrested when he tries to enter the city and thrown in jail. In the jail your character is asked to kill a creature in the sewers where he meets an important NPC. That’s the drama- and twist-filled story. It works great in a book format where the reader is following adventures of the main character, but it’s too restrictive in a game where the player IS the main character.
A better design would have been to offer an alternative. Allow the witcher to enter the city via the sewers (after fighting the guards and escaping or after being warned about the ambush as a reward for developing relationship with the villagers) and then run into the above mentioned NPC who will offer you to join him to kill the creature. As you can see, it’s still the same overall story and direction, and the alternative doesn’t require new art assets and tons of development time. It reuses the same situations - the arrest, the creature in the sewers, the knight NPC, the same villagers, and the same sewers, but suddenly you get an important choice instead of a forced situation that you are unable to avoid.
That’s our design “philosophy”, for the lack of a better word.