In past issues of the Spring Creek Sun, we have showcased interviews with independent developers who have broken out from under the shadows of their well-funded counterparts. This time around we sought out a larger company, one who has produced the big and much loved franchise—The Witcher series. CD Projekt Red (CDPR) is not like the other big developers out there. They have a deep love for their fans. They placed a thank you note in every copy of their latest game, and they give fans free weekly updates whereas other companies charge from the get-go. We talked with Miles Tost, level designer, about why they are so different, about their love for gaming, the fantastic game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and why they care so much about their fans.
Spring Creek Sun: Witcher 3 was released a few months ago to a great reception, how does it feel having something you worked on for so long be loved by so many?
Miles Tost, Level Designer: To be completely honest – it feels incredible. We’ve worked long and hard (development on Wild Hunt took roughly 3 years) on our game. A lot of love and sweat went into creating Geralt’s final adventure. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt truly is our baby! The positive feedback has been quite overwhelming for us simply because, as developers, you sit so close to your game and you see all these tiny flaws, these imperfections or simply things that you yourself would’ve liked to spend a little bit more time on. Most of these things are never even noticed by players, because of how minor these flaws are. So giving the game out for the players to play and getting such amazing feedback was a bit of a surprise to some. I remember sitting at my desk shortly before the reviews hit the net and the atmosphere was electric. It was a mix of nervosity and excitement. Gladly for us, and the players, of course, things turned out great!
SCS: Witcher 3 has some vastly different game mechanics when compared to the Witcher 2, such as the gigantic open world you implemented this time around. Was it difficult to add an open world to the franchise?
MT: It was definitely a challenge, but it was also a natural step forward. An open world was always something the studio wanted to do, however, the tech never was there until recently. We put high standards on ourselves when it came to defining our open world, which put us in front of lots of different challenges that we had to learn how to overcome. One such standard was that open world, for us, really should mean that the player can go anywhere, anytime. From this idea several challenges and solutions arose. For example, in order to help with that sense of freedom, we made Geralt much more mobile, allowing him to climb almost anything in the game. This allows him to take shortcuts and explore areas he never could before. Challenges here would be… where do you stop with letting him climb stuff? If we allow Geralt to climb every roof in Novigrad City, we would also need to design content for that and make it look pretty— ultimately, what would that add to the experience? Another challenge: Imagine a village where we would spawn a bandit encounter for the player when he approaches. But of course we don’t want these guys to spawn right in front of Geralt, so they need to be spawned out of sight. However, since the player can come from any direction to the village, because that is how open we want our world to be, the location of “out of sight” changes depending on the player’s position. So solutions for that needed to be created, etc. We definitely put ourselves to the test here and not only would I say we managed (still lots of room for improvement of course!) but also did we learn a lot. The knowledge and experience we gained creating the world of Wild Hunt is now being used in creating the expansions, especially the new region of Toussaint in the second expansion ‘Blood and Wine’.
SCS: Since Witcher 3’s release, you have been providing free weekly downloadable content, and within the game’s box you wrote a thank you letter to the fans. This is a wonderful and rather unique dedication to consumers, what motivated you to offer such fan service?
MT: It sounds cheesy, but we just want to treat the players of our game the way we would like to be treated as gamers. We are all gamers as well. We all follow the news about upcoming and released games with as much excitement as anyone. Likewise, we also find ourselves in situations where we become frustrated by things happening in the gaming landscape. So we try our best to keep gamers happy, by choosing a different path than other companies just simply because we know how it feels like to be a gamer today. And in the end, Interview with Developer CD Projekt Red without our fans we would not be where we are today. We owe them big time and a letter showing our appreciation is the least we can do.
SCS: How did you start developing a video game iteration of a book series?
MT: The universe of Witcher is very rich and also very close to Slavic/ (Eastern) European mythology. As an expat, that came in for development of Wild Hunt, I can only speak from what I’ve heard. The team at CDPR hasn’t been all that international for a long time. It used to be mostly Polish people, and still is that way today. This is great, because they all grew up reading the source material and hence know how to do right by it. The Witcher novels have been really popular here in Poland for years and it was somewhat of a dream for the team to create a game series based on series that they knew since their childhood.
SCS: Witcher 3 has over 200 hours of gameplay; this makes it an incredible buy when compared to other games on the market. Was the 200-hour mark a goal from the getgo or did it grow into that over the course of the game’s development?
MT: Nah, it just… sort of… happened? The plan for the game was pretty ambitious to begin with. We had a lot of ideas for content and even by the end, we never had the feeling to run out of ideas. Ultimately, we had to release the game some time, right? Otherwise we could’ve gone on and on. I guess that’s also one of the reasons why we are creating two huge expansions. Both expansions together will roughly allow for 30 hours of new content (in total) and allow us to come up with new ideas and also re-invent ones that we couldn’t figure for the base game.
SCS: What does the future hold for CD Projekt Red?
MT: Hopefully only good things, haha! I mean, I know that on our end we are aiming to further provide gamers with awesome games. Again, currently we are working on the expansions for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and, of course, Cyberpunk 2077, which personally – I am super excited about!
SCS: Thank you very much for talking with us. Is anything else you would like to tell our readers before we finish?
MT: Oh, boy! Thank you! And most importantly, thanks to all our fans who have been supporting us for such a long time. The past few months have been an insane ride, both leading up to release and immediately after. We’re working really hard on making the expansions awesome and worthy of our base game and worthy of your time. Not only that, but we’re trying to make them even better, so please keep them on your radar! Stay tuned to the CD Projekt Red and the Witcher 3 for the game’s new expansion Blood and Wine.