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Witcher 3 E3 gameplay demo combat was deliberately easy, CD Projekt says

And yes, it was running on an Xbox One.

Some who caught The Witcher 3's gameplay demo during Microsoft's E3 press conference were a bit worried by what they saw.

During the five minute demo, set about 10 hours into the game, series star Geralt is off on a griffin hunt in the No Man's Land wilderness. He prepares for combat, in classic Witcher fashion, by equipping a set of buffing potions and a small crossbow.

It's not long before Geralt comes up against a number of bandits, and easily dispatches them with a combination of magic attacks and devastating sword strikes. Geralt eventually tracks the griffin down, and takes just a few attacks to kill his quarry.

If you think it all looks a tad easy, then you're right. But don't expect the final version of the game to offer such an easy ride, executive producer John Mamais told Eurogamer.

"The combat is complex," he said.

"What we showed at the Microsoft conference was the easy way to play. We only had five minutes to show, so we had to play on easy and make the fights go really fast. You saw lots of dismemberment. It's not going to be so easy to cut somebody in half when the game comes out. We were showing off some features there.

"I was reading some feedback after the conference and people were saying, 'oh, that looks so easy,' but it ain't gonna be that easy."

The Witcher series is famous for its complex combat. Players need to prepare properly for encounters, think tactically about their foes and, when in battle, skillfully evade, dodge and defend.

Witcher 3 retains this feeling, but CD Projekt is trying to make the game easier to get to grips with at the start than previous games in the series.

"What we are doing in Witcher 3 is we're really focused on making a really nice soft learning curve for combat and storytelling," Mamais said.

"A lot of people are worried about Witcher 3, saying they won't understand it if they haven't played Witcher 1 and 2. Our philosophy is, okay, gameplay has to be a nice gentle curve, combat and story has to be a gentle curve.

"So, we're going to reintroduce the characters in the beginning, and we're going to spoon feed the gameplay mechanics you need to learn. So you're not going to be thrown into the pit of fire like you were in Witcher 2. I think we made a mistake doing that."

"I was reading some feedback after the conference and people were saying, 'oh, that looks so easy,' but it ain't gonna be that easy."

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Meanwhile, Mamais confirmed that the version of Witcher 3 shown during Microsoft's E3 press conference was indeed running on an Xbox One at 900p resolution and 30 frames per second.

It looked pretty good to our eyes, but Mamais insisted it will end up looking even better by the time development is finished for Witcher 3's February 2015 release date.

"We're still optimising for Xbox One and PS4 so it should look better than that in theory," he said. "But everything we're doing optimisation wise for PS4 and Xbox One, we're also optimising for PC. It's a cross-platform engine, so any optimisation we do for one platform goes into the other platform and just speeds it up, basically."

A 900p resolution is CD Projekt's "minimum", Mamais said. "We will hit 900p no problem. We'd like to get it up to 1080p on Xbox One. That's our goal. Whether we can do it or not I don't know. We've got to squeeze everything we can out of the hardware.

"Microsoft and Sony say 900p is the sweet spot, and there's not a lot of difference visually between 900p and 1080p, but it's a hot topic now. So that's what my goal is."

To this end, CD Projekt is working directly with Microsoft engineers to try to improve the game's performance on Xbox One.

This month Microsoft updated the Xbox Development Kit (XDK) so games that are not using skeletal tracking with Kinect can choose to use the portion of the Xbox One's graphics processing unit that was previously reserved. Now, games have access to 100 per cent of the Xbox One GPU for increased resolution and graphical effects.

Mamais said CD Projekt had yet to take the new XDK out for a spin, but it will, as Witcher 3 does not use Kinect motion.

Witcher 3 does support voice control via Kinect for magic signs so players need not access the radial menu. But as Eurogamer reported yesterday, voice control remains in use if players have a Kinect despite the Xbox One update.

"The voice command side doesn't tap into the GPU side at all, so we can still have Kinect," Mamais said.

"So if you buy Kinect you can use it for voice commands and system commands. It's modest integration for voice. But since it's not using the camera at all we can use any extra power we can take to speed up the GPU."

As expected, on PlayStation 4 Witcher 3 outputs at 1080p resolution.

"It's just a slightly more powerful machine," Mamais said. "That's pretty known. But I think in the longer run everything is going to be on both platforms running at 1080p. It's just taking developers longer to do it than they expected because the architecture is a little more challenging on the Xbox One.

"It's actually easier to develop for Xbox One for us because we're PC developers. So everything we do on PC is for DirectX 11. And Xbox is also based on DX. So for the rendering side it's a more natural progression for us to go to Xbox.

"But we anticipate being able to do 1080p on PS4 a little bit easier than on the Xbox."

As for PC, CD Projekt plans to add an ultra setting that, according to Mamais, you'll need a beefy machine to use.

"But I think it'll be worth it," he said. "Our ultra is pretty much the peak in games. At least we hope it is. The stuff we're doing is going to look really amazing."

Witcher 3 on PC ultra settings adds better tessellation, more physics, more post-processing and more realistic fur, Mamais said.

By comparison, the graphics of the console versions are equivalent to high settings on PC.

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