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Default The Witcher - Interview @ RPG Codex

May 4th, 2009, 13:13
We missed this interview with CD Projekt's Michal Kicinski last week at RPG Codex, which was written before the news of the cancelations broke. The conversation covers some RPG staples, the successes and failures of The Witcher and hype:
In the gaming industry and the gaming press there's a noisy opinion that certain game mechanics and design aspect featured in more traditional RPGs (e. g. tactical turn based combat, isometric perspective, skill based gameplay) are things of the past, things that the evolution of gaming left behind. What's your take on that and how are chances we might ever see such a game from CD Projekt.

Hmmm… you probably won't see an absolutly classical RPG from CD Projekt. Designing The Witcher we discussed that repeatedly. We reached the conclusion that we want to keep close to the values of classical RPGs (a well developed plot, possibly realistic depiction of the world), but we shouldn't clutch outworn formulas. Instead, we wondered what could be refined and change in order to achieve the overriding aim, that is, immerse the player into the imaginary world and allow him to identify with the hero. That seems to be the essence of the problem. That how specific elements are realized is less important than if the way they work brings us closer to the superior aim.

An example (no necessarily the best) might be the real time combat system used in The Witcher vs. typical turn based combat. TB combat has one huge advantage: it gives a lot of tactical possibilities and the outcome depends entirely on intellectual effort. For a lot of players, and that's the drawback, it might look too statistical and play out too slowly though, which is far from realistic. When designing The Witcher we tried to merge tactical possibilities (preparing to fight, alchemy and the use of potions, choice of weapons and styles, use of magical signs, use of dodging moves and combos, pause) with a dynamic depiction of the whole process. I have to add that the more sophisticated tactictics are needed and more visible when playing on higher difficulty levels.

Thanks to that the combat system in The Witcher allows, despite its apparent simplicity, for a lot of tactical possibilities while at the same time being more dynamic and realistic in its presentation. More realistic because real fights take place in real time . Obviously we might not have managed to make combat as deep a TB system would have allowed, but that example illustrates a little bit our approach. It's more important to have realistic combat with tactical possibilities than a specific combat system.

I feel it's worthwhile to build on technological progress. Since the appearence of the first classical RPGs the possibilities to design games have evolved drastically. It's worthwhile to stay faithful to what's most important in in RPGs, but that doesn't mean that you have to stay away from refining the formula in order to make playing a role more realistic. For example in The Witcher lots of RPG mechanics are interwoven into the game's inside and the player doesn't even realize they exist, but thanks to that the world and the NPCs populating it are more believable.
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May 4th, 2009, 13:13
This is pretty interesting an interview, touching quite a lot of aspects enough to make me wonder on which aspect I should comment…

Kicinski has already pinned down what made the Witcher unique. I'm quite satisfied with the content of the Witcher such as the choices which are enough to keep the attention of the players and the details which build up atmosphere. As Kicinski himself admits, indeed, both of them are not totally new, innovative but the resulted content as a whole was quite impressive, especially considering the current standard of the major game products.

As a minor issue, I was bit puzzled by the inventory since, although it is relatively realistic when it comes to the "backpack" of Geralt, the inns' inventories seem to be connected to each other. If there is such a limit to the "realism" in the first place, then, I wouldn't mind the existence of a "base-camp" for each map, which could have been a good help for the inventory management.

NOTE: This interview was conducted before rumours spread that CD Projekt had cancelled The Witcher console port and some other titles in order to focus on The Witcher 2.
If we're talking about how our future games are going to be planned and developed then the answer comes pretty easily. The basic idea that the motor of our games has to be a compelling story passed the test and it continues to be our main goal. It's understandable that an interactive story can be told and realized in many different ways. Our future products are planned to be less linear - taking it so far that depending on our choices we'll be able to visit totally different locations. In addition to that the player will have more freedom in dealing with simple quests. Of course we also refined the system we used to do dialog scenes.
I will definitely keep an eye on the Witcher 2. Please keep your good work in news update.
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May 4th, 2009, 13:23
It's unfortunate that they insist the combat system worked well - when I found it was one of the weakest aspects of the game.

Now, as I recall - I played on "normal" difficulty and there certainly wasn't anything even remotely tactical about combat. I only lasted 20-30 hours before getting bored, so maybe it changes later on. But the combat system is among the worst I've seen for a deep CRPG - and I think they're kidding themselves if they really think it worked well overall.

Anyway, I have tremendous respect for what they accomplished with the game, and there's no doubt it's an amazing piece of work. But I truly hope they'll reconsider their approach to combat in the future.
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May 4th, 2009, 15:04
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
It's unfortunate that they insist the combat system worked well - when I found it was one of the weakest aspects of the game.

Now, as I recall - I played on "normal" difficulty and there certainly wasn't anything even remotely tactical about combat. I only lasted 20-30 hours before getting bored, so maybe it changes later on. But the combat system is among the worst I've seen for a deep CRPG - and I think they're kidding themselves if they really think it worked well overall.
Oh, I think there are RPGs with deep tactical combat with light story/world setting. That said, I think there would be a difference when you build a swordmaster character and a magic/alchemy one. Personally, I went for the former type and used a top-down view, or isometric view according to the interviewee and have found it quite tactical due to the choices in magic/alchemy during combat and the preparations for it. There are some combination of magic/alchemy work fine, too. However, some people played hard difficulty seem to agree that rounded type is a most optimized character. Read some of the posts by whom frequent the Witcher forum here or the official Witcher fora.

I don't think my reflex is terribly bad but one of the combat type I cannot endure is one which makes my fingers hurt due to constant clicking, which is why I couldn't stand Diablo and its numerous clones. At least, my fingers didn't show such "symptoms" during my playthrough of the Witcher.
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May 4th, 2009, 19:58
I have to agree with dusk. The Witcher isn't a clickfest. If furious clicking is something someone wants, then The Witcher is not the game for him.
And if lack of "beat the record clicking per second" means getting a better story and more adventures, I definetly won't protest. Can't wait the sequel.

The game fights arent a challenge someone will say. Do please play with the highest difficulty, then we'll check again your opinion on it.
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May 5th, 2009, 00:30
Well I rather liked the combat to, I think i worked rather well, more deep that the Diablo click fest, but not over complicated either.
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May 5th, 2009, 05:23
Haven't played the game yet, but what a great interview.
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May 5th, 2009, 07:22
To be fair, considering the popularity of Diablo, it probably has charms which I couldn't find during my brief play-time. It's just some old games which require constant button mushing/clicking as "gameplay" make me run from them at almost instinctive level. I simply cannot stand them at all…

As for the gameplay of the Witcher in comparison with other action RPG games, I'll post a link to a thread about hybrid RPGs, just in case you are interested.

Originally Posted by Grandor Dragon View Post
Haven't played the game yet, but what a great interview.
Yes, the interview is interesting, so why not play it?
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May 5th, 2009, 08:18
Diablo and Diablo 2 are more about the strategy than the tactics. Both games have combat systems that are pretty simple in terms of tactical complexity.

That said, the strategic challenge, particularly in Diablo 2, is vastly more complex than anything I encountered in The Witcher. But I should also add that the need for being wise strategically in Diablo 2 kicks in only in the later stages of the game - like in nightmare and hell. So, since I haven't played The Witcher through to the end, I really can't truthfully say how it compares. But I should be mildly shocked if it changed so profoundly.

However, it's an integral part of the Diablo design that nightmare and hell is part of the "normal" experience. The game opens up in terms of encounters, loot, and character development during those stages. The Witcher, being a "traditional" CRPG, is meant to be played through once - and anything else is a standard replay option. If the "normal" difficulty level isn't challenging - then they better design harder modes so they don't interfere with the overall balance. Most designers fail utterly to implement good difficulty modes - so I generally opt for "normal" to be safe. I haven't tried The Witcher in hard mode - so maybe it's an exception. But since the game bored me severely, it's probably best to just let it lie.

As far as I could see, you simply chose one of the 3 combat styles according to the type of enemy - as in whether you were facing a single strong or weak opponent, or a group of enemies. How you invested your points determined which style you would opt for when the situation was blurry - and normal/silver sword was for human/monster opponents respectively. The spells were extremely limited in number, and it was a matter of choosing one or two you focused on to compliment your physical combat.

Then there's the matter of drinking a potion to fit the fight - but I think I only encountered a single enemy during those 30 hours that really needed a potion to defeat - and the same is the case for spells. Most fights I opted for the lazy way out and preferred group combat style which I invested most points in.

As I said, I was neither entertained nor challenged by the combat - and those are incidentally the two primary factors I use when determining how good combat systems are. I really have no reason to conclude that it's better than average at best.

Click-fest isn't a bad word for the combat I experienced in The Witcher - but i'd call it a click-fest in slow motion. Reminded me more of that ancient arcade game Dragon's Lair than anything else - in that you had to time your clicks according to the animation (the little symbol, actually) - and to me that's about as far away from simulating exciting combat as I can imagine.
Last edited by DArtagnan; May 5th, 2009 at 14:34.
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May 5th, 2009, 10:51
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
The Witcher, being a "traditional" CRPG, is meant to be played through once - and anything else is a standard replay option.
Well, not really - the hugely hyped "delayed consequences" feature was to ensure people would want to play the game again and make different choices. It worked for me, at least…
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May 5th, 2009, 11:38
Originally Posted by Elwro View Post
Well, not really - the hugely hyped "delayed consequences" feature was to ensure people would want to play the game again and make different choices. It worked for me, at least…
Well, I guess you're right.

What I meant was that I don't think it's meant to be replayed at increasingly hard difficulty levels. At least not anymore than most CRPGs with choices that affect the outcome.

Where I'd like to claim that the Diablo games are MEANT to be played at increasingly hard difficulty levels. I know people who're not into that kind of game probably stop at normal - but that means they're missing out on the meat of the game.

Anyway, that's what I think.
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May 5th, 2009, 13:48
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
Most designers fail utterly to implement good difficulty modes - so I generally opt for "normal" to be safe. I haven't tried The Witcher in hard mode - so maybe it's an exception. But since the game bored me severely, it's probably best to just let it lie.
You're right, and TW is no different. The difficulty modes are unbalanced, but unfortunately it seems you chose the 'wrong' one. This game was meant to be played on HARD difficulty. Hard level on TW is like a normal level on most other games. On Hard setting the combat is more engaging, as potions must be used to survive.

Too bad you didn't figure that out at the start, your impression of the game would probably be different and you probably would have had a lot more fun.

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May 5th, 2009, 14:38
Originally Posted by Jabberwocky View Post
You're right, and TW is no different. The difficulty modes are unbalanced, but unfortunately it seems you chose the 'wrong' one. This game was meant to be played on HARD difficulty. Hard level on TW is like a normal level on most other games. On Hard setting the combat is more engaging, as potions must be used to survive.

Too bad you didn't figure that out at the start, your impression of the game would probably be different and you probably would have had a lot more fun.
Well, that's unfortunate - and I'll keep that in mind if I ever get around to trying again.

But, tell me, does the way you fight change BEYOND needing to drink a potion more often?

I mean, as I described above, don't you still choose the appropriate style and click away? I assume it's more vital not to MISS clicks on harder modes - but I certainly didn't expect a different or more engaging system when going to hard mode.
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May 5th, 2009, 14:47
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
But, tell me, does the way you fight change BEYOND needing to drink a potion more often?

I mean, as I described above, don't you still choose the appropriate style and click away? I assume it's more vital not to MISS clicks on harder modes - but I certainly didn't expect a different or more engaging system when going to hard mode.

Hard difficulty also removes the icon that tells you when to click during combat. You then have to rely solely on the actual swing, and sound, of your sword to determine when to attack again.

Jabberwocky is exactly right though, the game is MUCH better when played on "hard".
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May 5th, 2009, 16:10
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
The Witcher, being a "traditional" CRPG, is meant to be played through once - and anything else is a standard replay option. If the "normal" difficulty level isn't challenging - then they better design harder modes so they don't interfere with the overall balance. Most designers fail utterly to implement good difficulty modes - so I generally opt for "normal" to be safe. I haven't tried The Witcher in hard mode - so maybe it's an exception. But since the game bored me severely, it's probably best to just let it lie.
As you can see in the review, the Witcher's focus is on story-telling. So, it would be rather safe to keep the normal mode relatively easy in order to keep the game more accessible.
Creating a game where the most important element (as in books) is telling the story of a specific character.
The second most important aspect was combat. Since we were telling the story of a professional monster killer, a master of swordsmanship, we decided that combat had to be exceptionally spectacular and the variety of blows immense.
All elements of the game like collecting items, the use of weapons, leveling up and even the GUI were supposed to be subordinate to and consistent with the story and atmosphere.
What struck me about the interview is that designers didn't start the design from typical role-playing game recipe. They first decided what they would like to express most, set it as a core of the work, and build other factors around it.

Other more general fundamental ideas were for instance that we'd make an edgy game with its distinct character regardless of political correctness and current trends. What's more, we insisted that no matter how much we respect the advice of experienced publishers, at the end of the day we've got the final word on anything regarding creativity. We didn't want the vision of the game to be in any way distorted or damped.
In fact, the most remarkable mistake is that the designers actually listened to "experts" of the western markets about dumbing down the dialogues, despite of the fact that they are definitely one of the most important factors in telling story. Of course, they should have kept their policy but, eventually, they corrected the mistake by redoing the task. I think one of the keys of the Witcher's success is the solid view kept by the designers, who are not necessarily experts of making RPG.
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May 5th, 2009, 16:24
I agree completely, which is why I hold the game in such high regard.

They managed to do what pretty much every single corporate developer hasn't done in so many years - which is to make a success out of a big budget game that didn't go out of its way to cater to the mass market.

Almost a miracle, in fact.
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May 5th, 2009, 17:00
Agreed. Until I tried it on Hard, I didn't realize how much better the combat -and overall game- would be. Actually needing the items being collected; thinking about what potions you can manage to make while resting; pausing and choosing strategies, spells, and combos for the larger combats, etc…it all made for a much more interesting experience.
Until you've played it on Hard, guys like us just haven't played it. Normal mode is for the clickers.
Luckily, I found it easily worth the replay.
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