Departed Witcher 3 devs: "There is no bad blood"
"We did everything to make sure nothing bad happens."
Two key members of The Witcher 3 team officially departed CD Projekt Red last week: lead gameplay designer Maciej Szcześnik and gameplay producer Marek Ziemak.
They left for another developer in Warsaw, Poland, called 11 bit studios, known best for Anomaly: Warzone Earth. Their given reason for leaving was to make smaller, more creative games.
But it didn't take long for concern to creep in. Losing a lead gameplay designer months from release - was Witcher 3 development OK? Were there deeper rifts within the team? Why didn't CD Projekt Red say anything?
That's why I phoned Maciej Szcześnik and Marek Ziemak this morning for a chat.
"We did everything to make sure nothing bad happens," Szcześnik assured me of the transition, "there is no bad blood. Other people took our responsibilities and it was quite smooth."
"It wasn't a surprise for the company"Marek Ziemak
"It wasn't a surprise for the company," Ziemak added, telling me there had been at least a couple of weeks of slowly backing out of the door. Szcześnik nodded. "It wasn't like ... we were gone the next day," he said.
Also, the pair reminded me, The Witcher 3 is made by many. The gameplay isn't just Szcześnik's work, however senior his role. "We were designing this game together," he stressed. And, as Ziemak pointed out: "Most of the stuff is done."
Both men were CD Projekt Red old guard. Szcześnik had been there almost as long as the studio itself, since 2004, and Ziemak joined in 2006.
What I hadn't realised was that they had left before, in 2009, to set up a casual game maker called Sleepwalker Games. "And it didn't work out ... it didn't give us enough money to survive," said Ziemak.
CDPR rehired the pair to help finish The Witcher 2, after which Szcześnik moved from being lead combat designer to leading all gameplay design.
So why now - why wait until only a few months before The Witcher 3's release to leave? They'd been there for a decade, or thereabouts - they couldn't wait a bit longer?
Why wait for some "artificial date", Ziemak asked me. The project was in good hands and he was "burnt out". CDPR, remember, has made only Witcher games for 10 years.
Their desire to make something smaller, more immediate, something different was there, and then along came a proposition. It was a strange time to leave, both admitted, but they had a need to.
In other words there are no rifts within the team, no apparent falling-outs; just two people satisfying personal creative urges.
So what will these former and senior Witcher developers make now?
Szcześnik will be lead designer of a game he can't say anything about, although it definitely isn't... casual. He told me he wants to make games that comment more on the world around us. Ziemak will be a senior producer.
11 bit studios typically turns out a game a year, and employs around 30 staff. That's not going to change.
When will we hear more? The press release last week said in March. One to keep an eye on.
I've been in touch with CD Projekt Red but no statement about Szcześnik and Ziemak's departure has been forthcoming.