Witcher 2 runs on 360 and it doesn’t melt. Unexpected, but promising. We sat down with senior producer Tomasz Gop to talk about that feat of techno wizardry, DRM, and much more.
The Witcher 2
Beloved dark fantasy RPG from CD Projekt.
Choices have real impact – determine where you go, who you meet, etc.
Now officially receiving an Xbox 360 port.
Already out on PC. Xbox version releasing at end of 2011.
When last we left Geralt of Rivia on his journey to consoles, he was pretty much getting canceled. Yes, the Witcher franchise has been down this road before, only last time it swerved into a ditch and exploded.
Now, though, CD Projekt’s taking another crack at bringing its gritty, grimy, witchy fantasy series to Xbox 360, and, this time, the prognosis is immeasurably better. Evidence A: the game itself, which is looking far from hideous even though it’s running on a far from cutting-edge graphics card.
We sat down with senior producer Tomasz Gop to chat about how development’s coming along – and, of course, every other conceivable topic even vaguely related to Witcher 2. We talked a lot. In fact, if you check, we bet you’ll still find us there right now. We miss going outside. And moving.
VG247: Witcher 2 is coming to Xbox 360. Kids these days have been spoiled. They need a real tough-as-nails RPG filled with choice. And gratuitous sex. Anyway, if Witcher 2 sells well, are you hoping to also bring over the first Witcher?
Tomasz Gop: It’s a good idea. We’ve always wanted to do that. The fact that the project failed once means that we’re not developing it right now. Truth is, it’s still in our hearts. We would love to do it one day. But just to make things straight: it’s not in development right now. In the future – if we have time, people, and money for this – maybe. But it’s not happening right now.
In the meantime, are you going to include some sort of opening to get console players up to speed on the series’ storyline?
The first thing is, obviously, anyone who started their own adventure [through the Witcher series] – even on PC – with The Witcher 2 shouldn’t feel lost. We made every effort we could to make sure it was a story of its own. But, on the other hand, it’s always worth trying to do more about that. And we are thinking about doing some extra stretch for adding some… I don’t know if it’s going to be a movie, comic book, or whatever.
Oh! Like those awesome comic-style Witcher 2 scenes? I liked the part where everyone died all the time.
Yeah, those are cool. I mean, there are tons of ways you could use to ensure that people [get the full story]. And we’re aware of the need for that. So we’re thinking about it.
Why only Xbox 360? Is it simply a matter of resources at the moment?
“We’re not saying we’ll do Witcher 2 only on Xbox 360.”
To start, we’re not saying we’ll do Witcher 2 only on Xbox 360. We’d like to do it for PS3 as well. Our technology is capable of doing PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. We’ve just switched the team to doing Xbox 360, and we’re dedicated to this project right now. Maybe, in the future, it might be possible that we’ll also do the next one in line.
The Xbox 360 version looks surprisingly nice, given how battered and bruised Witcher 2 leaves even bleeding-edge PCs. Can you say how many frames-per-second you’re shooting for?
We need to be certified by Microsoft, so there are restrictions for this. But I think 30 FPS is what’s bound to happen. More? Quite possible, yeah. And obviously, we’re running a pre-Alpha version of the game, so it’s definitely more of a tech demo than anything that reflects the final product.
On that topic, if you could liken the console version to one of the PC’s graphical settings, what would you say you’re going for?
I would say right now – because of how early [in development] it is – the goal is to be as close as possible to “medium” spec on PC.
Onto more general RPG stuff. What’s your take on the general state of choice in RPGs? Do you think choice in a lot of games is too toothless – that it’s gentle so as to make sure players don’t miss out on anything?
I always have trouble comparing CD Projekt to different developers. We’ve always been confident in what we’re doing and the way we’re approaching what we’re doing. I can tell you that we know how we want to handle this. We want to hint at players that there might be a branch in the storyline – that a different outcome depends on certain elements in the game when you meet them. But we don’t think it’s – hmm, how to put this – we don’t think it’s fair to give out everything. To make people feel spoonfed or anything like that. We’re not the kind of game that does that, and I don’t see us as ever doing that. So I don’t think it’s going to happen to the Witcher franchise.
Similarly, I feel like a lot of choices in modern games are merely elaborate arrangements of smoke and mirrors. For instance, dialog options are always fun, but what’s the point when glorified NPC talkboxes spew out the same automated spiel regardless of your responses?
You’re right, but please bear in mind that – in our case – we’re a developer that stresses [choice] the most. It’s the most important feature of our game. So we do these extra stretches – extra work, extra locations – because we know we want to invest in it, because it comes back to us in a way that we planned for. Maybe some developers don’t put that much stress on it. I don’t know. Dragon Age, for example. Dragon Age II. They probably invested more than us in their combat system. So it all depends on your priorities, I would say.
Speaking of combat, Witcher 2 took the majority of its flack for combat that was, er, not altogether enjoyable. Are you tweaking it for the Xbox version?
Definitely. A week ago, we released version 1.2 [on PC], and it contains the first batch of tweaks toward balancing the game – especially focusing on the prologue. We will be introducing new ones as well. We’ve heard that the learning curve is not even throughout the whole game. We keep working on that. The team is not all on Xbox 360 right now; part of the team is still providing post-launch support.
The defining word of this year’s E3 seems to be “accessibility.” Obviously, though, that’s a fine line. Depending on execution, it’s the difference between a feature that lowers a game’s barrier to entry and including a spring-loaded boxing glove in the game box with the words “You’re dumb” perfectly placed so that they’re the first thing you see when you open your newly blackened eye. Do you think the industry’s underestimating the general gaming populace? I mean, you’ve obviously hedged your bets on the idea that people want complex, sometimes difficult experiences.
That’s true. I believe it might mean two things. The first – and probably most obvious – is that the whole industry might be shifting toward not making too many hardcore games anymore. I don’t know. Maybe times are changing. Whatever. You name it.
But the second and probably not-so-obvious thing is that game budgets are rocket-high these days. For example, take From Software. They risked a lot with Demon’s Souls. I don’t think they’re risking that much with Dark Souls right now, but still. I’m a huge fan of Demon’s Souls. I finished it, like, three times. I love this game. But still, you have to be some sort of niche player.
“We don’t think it’s fair to give out everything. To make people feel spoon-fed or anything like that.”
I don’t know whether they earned ten million dollars or half-a-million on that game, but they had to be confident in what they do. Some people definitely want to be sure that they don’t lose money. I mean, this is business. It became a serious business. So that might be a second reason. I would compare it to the 20s, when movies came out of the silent era. That’s where I think we are with games.
Witcher 2 is obviously a PC game at heart. Even so, PC gamers have a possessive streak that borders on terrifying, and I’m sure plenty of them took the console version’s announcement as a sign that the sky was falling. “CD Projekt is abandoning PC!” Etc. So, going forward, is PC still priority number one for you?
That’s a tricky one. We try to make everything to make sure the PC version will be polished. Maybe in the future there will even be enough extra content that we’ll think about releasing an Enhanced Edition of The Witcher 2. But still, we’re trying to switch the team to the Xbox 360 version of Witcher 2, because we think focusing really strongly on one project is what we like to do and what we do well. Maybe later on there will be the next Witcher or a PS3 version. It depends. Any project we’re confident with, we’re doing full-speed and with the full team.
CD Projekt is very in touch with its PC community. I mean, you guys have been patching incredibly specific problems like madmen. Are you afraid of losing any of that closeness or intimacy as you expand to new platforms?
No, no. I don’t see any compromises in that matter for us. We’ll probably just have to hire a support team that’s twice as big.
Recently, you guys freed Witcher 2 of its DRM shortly after launch, and Capcom actually listened to its fans when Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition nearly implemented some positively evil DRM. Do you think times are finally changing? Are publishers finally coming around to the idea that socking legitimate customers in the gut with DRM isn’t such a great idea?
“I would compare it to the 20s, when movies came out of the silent era. That’s where I think we are with games.”
I can only speak for us. It would not make sense to [keep DRM after launch]. It doesn’t, and we’re not planning to do that. If somebody else thinks other ways, it’s their own opinion and I have to respect it. But we never prize DRM above quality and comfort. The worst failure we could have as developers is if illegal players could play first – then the legal ones. That would be disastrous. We don’t want that to happen.
You’re porting a ridiculously high-end PC game to consoles, and you’re actually getting some decent performance out of it. Do you think we’re in need of a new console generation just yet, or is there still a bit more room to grow into this one?
I don’t know. Personally – please don’t count it as “the developer’s opinion” – I still love my PS3 that I have in my living room. I still [go back to] a lot of games that I didn’t have the chance to play. For example, Killzone 3 or Uncharted 2. I played those recently. There was no way and no aspect in which those games looked bad or played badly. I loved them. My personal opinion [on whether we need new consoles]? No. No way. I don’t see any need for a new generation of consoles.