Expo! It's been a hell of a weekend for developer session speakers at the Eurogamer Expo so far. We've had Peter Molyneux and Tim Willits and all sorts. Today we've got CD Projekt showing off The Witcher 2. Senior producer Tomasz Gop and level designer Marek Ziemak were on hand to show how things are going for good old Geralt now he's in a new game engine with refined combat, improved dialogue systems and a newer and much bigger story.
As with all our sessions, we grabbed Gop and Ziemak, along with their colleague Jan Bartkowicz who works on the story design team, for a chat about how The Witcher 2 is coming along and the focus of today's presentation.
Eurogamer: For the benefit of people who haven't seen much of The Witcher 2 yet, what did you learn from the experience of making the original and what are the main themes of the sequel?
Tomasz Gop: Definitely the feedback from the first game was the most crucial thing for us, which means there were things people liked, like the story, and there were things were more controversial, say combat system. We definitely wanted to improve everything, but the deeper changes went into things that were complained about. The story is brand new but it's still an old-school RPG story, and things like combat and even the dialogue system have been revamped so they look better and some have deeper changes.
Eurogamer: How have you revamped the dialogue system?
Jan Bartkowicz: There are some big changes in the dialogue system compared to The Witcher. We basically remade it from scratch. Witcher 1 was kind of old-school with single cameras just to show you the speaking character, and now we can switch cameras on a timeline to show other characters reacting to the characters speaking. We have more gestures now, we can add another person to the dialogue, they can come in and come out throughout the chat, and we've also added extra skill-based options so the player can persuade people, you can use some of your Witcher signs, you can intimidate people, and it's all based on your stats.
Eurogamer: Can you give a bit of a summary of where you are story-wise at the beginning of The Witcher 2 and what we can expect to see?
Jan Bartkowicz: The story of The Witcher 2 is about a month or two months after the ending of The Witcher 1. So The Witcher 1's outro has set the stage for the new chapter of the adventure. The story's bigger compared to The Witcher 1. It's not only this one kingdom, this one city; it's throughout a really big part of Andrzej Sapkowski's world, so I think that's a major difference. Your actions will actually influence a lot of political change in this world so it will be more epic for sure.
Eurogamer: Which areas are you going to be concentrating on in your Expo presentation?
Tomasz Gop: We're trying to show bits of the things we've shown at E3 and gamescom. One of the things will be concerned around these deep, hardcore RPG features like dialogue, cut-scenes, introducing new plots, new characters, and changes that we've done in the storytelling. The other part of the presentation will be going big, going huge to show epic stuff - huge battles, huge fights, like 100 characters on screen.
Eurogamer: What kind of reaction have you had at places like gamescom?
Tomasz Gop: It was like [screams] WOW! Haha, no, people are telling us it's really good that we're focusing on things that were commented on in the first one. The story - people said you have proven that you think well about the story and then you implement it in the right way. We're not messing around with this or doing deep changes to the way we tell the story - we've already proved that.
And on the other hand people said, okay, the combat is not done yet, but the way you are going we can see you definitely removed the things that some people perceived too difficult. For example, the advanced tactics in combat - they were obligatory in The Witcher 1 and in the second one they're not. These are the changes we're trying to do, all of them based on feedback.
Eurogamer: People at gamescom also said that the game seems more confident about uniting RPG and action elements - is that something you consciously did in development?
Tomasz Gop: It basically derives from who The Witcher is. It's a guy who is a mutant - he can move, heal and fight better than normal humans - so to actually do that you cannot do the kind of combat from, say, Demon's Souls. It's really realistic where you can feel the moves and strikes of your sword and the weight of your weapon. In The Witcher 1 it's not that way.
That's why people maybe perceive the combat we have now as more action-packed. But the way we're trying to combine it - a lot of action aspects are story-driven, and the character development is story-driven, so we are putting story in front of everything else. If combat in The Witcher 2 is more action-like than in The Witcher 1, it's good but it's not the main feature of the game.
Eurogamer: A lot of RPG games these days deal in choice and consequence. What do you think are the best examples in the genre at the moment and how does The Witcher 2 improve upon what's come before?
Jan Bartkowicz: I like how BioWare approaches the subject sometimes. I was a fan of Knights of the Old Republic - I loved the way there were just a few choices but they had really big consequences. I think it's impossible to create a game that has tons of choices and great consequences because at the time you're basically creating five games at the same time, and there's no point doing that.
I think we're not really that much influenced by other games if we're talking about just telling the story. I think it's hard to compare The Witcher with specific other games. But I think The Witcher 1 made some really big steps in this department, and there are some games out there right now that are pretty much influenced by The Witcher, so we're hoping to head down that road further.
Eurogamer: Which games do you think are influenced by The Witcher?
Jan Bartkowicz: Okay, er... [laughs]
Eurogamer: You said it!
Jan Bartkowicz: This is going to be bold, right, but I think Mass Effect was and Dragon Age was for sure, because we made some things that weren't really that popular in RPGs at the time. For example, erotic themes in RPG games - it's still really difficult to handle. You see games running into clichéd areas when doing erotic content. It's hard to do them as a believable thing because the player's always trying to find the hidden mechanism behind it so it will be easy to show. Mass Effect has its way to do this and I think Dragon Age was bolder than that too. So I think Witcher was an important factor in this department.
Also in the choice-and-consequence department. Dragon Age really was influenced by us and that's great, because it's a genre that doesn't have that many games and it's not like that serious a competition, because at the end of the day if you're an RPG player you're not going to get that many games, so you're not considering, "Is it going to be Fallout 3 for me or The Witcher?" You're probably going to play both. It's not like Bad Company or Modern Warfare where you're playing through the whole year. That's why I think our little RPG genre family is more tight, because we're not looking at each other thinking, "Argh, they're going to steal our gamers!"
Eurogamer: I've heard there are 16 endings in The Witcher 2 and even multiple introductions if you import your savegame from The Witcher. How do you make sure that every way you play the game is rewarding and coherent when there's so much player choice involved?
Jan Bartkowicz: It's like this. First of all, we wanted to make these multiple endings not like... We don't want the game to be a linear story until the last 10 per cent of the game where you make the choices and suddenly everything goes totally different ways. That's not really a summary, right? It's only a summary of the last 10 per cent of the game.
So we've made our system based on the idea, for example, that in the first chapter of the game you will make choices that mean you could only possibly see eight of those endings because of the choice you made. Someone asked me at gamescom, "Where do I need to save the game to load it and see all the different endings?" and I told them, "Well, basically in the prologue!"
Eurogamer: I understand you're using your own engine this time - what was it like having to adapt to doing this?
Marek Ziemak: In The Witcher 1 we used a modified Aurora engine, which was a kind of old engine for us already, but we did our best to make it as good as we actively could. But we weren't able to put all the stuff we designed into the game because of the limitations of the engine. After The Witcher 1 we decided we needed some new technology to let us create the things we wanted to have in the first game and our future requirements.
So we were creating the engine to suit our needs and expectations, and I believe that's what we did - we created an engine that allows us to do the game pretty fast in the way we always wanted to do it, and we have all those cool features thanks to the new technology. We wanted to have them - that's one of the main reasons we did the engine.
Tomasz Gop: The main idea was there are not too many RPG engines on the market, so if we wanted to move one step forward we definitely had to think about doing features that no one else had, because not every day people are implementing new RPG engines, and we already knew that we had great ideas that people appreciate so we said okay, let's try to make the ultimate RPG engine that will serve for our game and maybe for other games in the future.
Eurogamer: You're PC-only for now. Why do that rather than go multiformat?
Tomasz Gop: Well, we're on PC right now because we're focusing on what we know and definitely know how to implement. But of course multi-platform possibilities were one of the reasons why we have rewritten the engine. We have tested our engine and it works on multiple platforms, it's just that right now we don't have anything solid to show until whenever we will - and we will - but we're just not announcing anything because we don't have a demo in hand. We will announce a new project.
Eurogamer: Maybe we can invite you back to the Expo next year and you can show something on console.
Tomasz Gop: Yeeeeah, we'll see! Haha.
Tomasz Gop is senior producer on The Witcher 2, Marek Ziemak is level designer and Jan Bartkowicz is story designer.