It so happens that the Polish studio CD Projekt Red is inseparably linked with "The Witcher" franchise in everybody's minds. The studio has spent almost ten years working on the dilogy and we can be sure that they're not going to draw a curtain over the story of the fair-haired fiend slayer. But the team doesn't want to stand in one place. Calling themselves game industry rebels they rush to explore new directions, yet remain faithful to the genre. It wouldn't be wise to leave prolific field of RPG, but CD Projeckt Red is also not willing to simply make profit of Andrzej Sapkowski's creation by releasing new "The Witcher" title every once in a while. The result of the team's self-search and creative potentiality - announce of a new RPG "Cyberpunk", which raises concepts of the sci-fi sub-genre to the absolute with it's name only.
Is it safe to say that role-playing genre is having the second birth now? Which RPG do you consider to be the main ones in this console generation?
Maciej Sosnowski, CD Projekt RED: RPG games were always a popular genre, with a solid, constant fan base. Now we can see an expansion of the genre with many people looking for titles of this kind. This has many reasons – RPGs stopped being closed systems for tabletop gamers and adapted different gameplay schemes (not only going into action-RPGs). For me this genes most important RPGs were (apart from The Witcher 2) were Fallout 3
and (surprise, surprise) Legend of Grimrock. The first title showed that first person RPGs don’t have to be concentrated on action (the VATS system appealed to me – I didn’t play an FPS, but a real RPG, I felt the stats mattered). Also it managed to combine an open-world with a good story (next sandbox RPGs had a much worse tale). And Legend of Grimrock showed many gamers and developers that we still need games grounded in classic RPG mechanics.
We are very disappointed that the majority of the developers make us manage a no-name deaf-and-dump Chosen. Should the main character of the role-playing game be a «full-bodied» like Adam Jensen from Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Or it would be harm to identification of the player with the character?
Both approaches are OK, but will give you a different gameplay experience. A nameless character can be easily customized by players and the player will be able to play any role he wants. Then comes the question how the player approaches his character. Will he be able to build a coherent hero and will his decisions be made in accordance with the psychic of the character he created. Will he choose something negative for his stats, gameplay advantages, because that’s what “the chosen one” would do?
In tabletop RPGs you have this freedom of creation, but also the control of the GM, who helps to keep characters in line with the surrounding world, who cares if the players try to think of the characters background etc. In video games you can’t do it and except the choice of looks, people tend to create shallow heroes themselves. You have to control yourself to make your character believable.
For an epic story like that of The Witcher, we needed more psychological depth. So we tell the player whose role will he be taking. This isn’t a better or worse method. It’s just completely different. It’s much harder to jump into someone’s shoes, but when you do that your experience is more immersive.
What biggest failure in RPG genre could you recollect?
I can say what really I hate in some RPGs. First of all the game has to be challenging – if I can’t die in a game it becomes boring. I also don’t like games with a bad story, to make me intrigued is the best way to get inside my character
How much time does take from the moment of the first idea till the story outline writing? When do the game-designers start their work, how is further cooperation of the group built with the material written? On which stage is the ready scenario with dialogues and scenes enriched?
This is a very complex question. Of course the script team is the vanguard of the project, but gameplay designers and coders might work parallel. All of this requires cooperation all the time. How to implement the writers ideas to the gameplay and so on. The scenario is in a way never ready and can be subject to changes all the time – voice actors also influence how the script is played. And enriching the scenes is also a long and tiresome process. The script is not stiff and changes apply all the time (of course the core remains unchanged) – but this isn’t a strict technical process – it’s a mixture of art, brainstorming and technology.
Have you got congenial developers who have the same idea and point of view on game industry? If you had a possibility of joint game project who of your colleagues could become a perfect co-author?
In the industry we are a little like rebels and for example I don’t know any other major developer who is anti-DRM or gives DLCs for free – that’s what we do. If I personally would choose who to work with it would be Rockstar – they created the best open-world game on this gen of hardware (Red Dead Redemption) or Rocksteady (I’m a Batman freak).
What, in your opinion, is the emotional component of the plot in? Is a not easy choice made by the player, leading to unexpected consequences, the death of the key character that was so loved by the gamer or unexpected turns of the history?
Choice can also lead to unexpected consequences. Why make a trade-off? In our game there is a lot of decisions, which results will come later. Player emotions are best achieved by giving him a feeling that his choices matter. And this cannot be only a feeling – decisions have to influence the game world. A karma meter or something like that won’t create emotions, but seeing that an entire community is changed based on you one click is very important.
What’s worth mentioning building an emotional tie with the character is very important for the player to immerse into the game world. You can’t really play the hero’s role if you don’t share emotions with your in-game avatar.
To what extent does the final result correspond to the one you planned to receive in the beginning?
The project has a life of its own. As mentioned changes happen all the time. Bad ideas go away, good ideas are replaced with better ones and the game improves all the time. There is no percentage meter for that. We work really hard to deliver the best game possible. Some values cannot be changed – we always know that we want to create mature and complex games for ambitious people. And this is the core of what we do.
What in your opinion are the key moments in RPG genre that defined the direction all the games made after?
I’ll give a short answer that I think all RPG fans will understand: Black Isle games. For my generation there were something that defined what I look for in RPGs.
First RPG's made used board games as a prototype, where numbers and a talented storyteller mattered the most. Nowadays, have the story and action-packed gameplay become keystones in making a successful game, or do people still want hardcore games, only maybe changed a little? If they do, what are the changes needed?
You can have a great story in video RPGs as well. You can even get the impression of a GM. But this requires having a really non-linear environment, which reacts to your choices. Also people are looking for more complex RPGs in terms of mechanics – look at the success of Legend of Grimrock. The market is very wide and you have to find your own audience for example we ourselves aim at people who look for demanding gameplay and a stroydriven non-linear experience.
Most games use classic scheme of Campbell Joseph - you escape, you find allies, you return in all the glory, but are there any other ways to introduce the story? What would be the craziest synopsis for a role-paying game?
I know only one series of RPGs that does that in every part, but besides that games have a much thicker plot. Of course if you have a wide definition of escape, allies and glory you can fit any story to what you described. There are some games with no story at all. But what would the craziest story for an RPG? Let’s say I like the concept of Chewbacca riding a squirrel and killng Nazis.
What is your favorite game system of the all time, and why?
X-beast 3-Sexy. I don’t dive into sentiments when talking about game systems. This doesn’t mean Id don’t have nostalgia for them, but let us not think about the past. I love the social aspect of Xbox LIVE, achievements and that it makes my TV something more. And the gamepad is more comfortable than that of the PS3 (which I like too).
What favorite places do you prefer to visit so as to have a rest and coin an interesting phrase or image or possible to have a cup of coffee and read?
The best ideas come in a bathtub. Period.
What do you consider to be the biggest mistake among RPG developers in relation to the audience and their approach to a game mechanics?
The biggest mistake many PC developers do is fighting piracy with DRM – DRMs don’t work and punish legit players. When it comes to RPGs I think the greatest sin is when the game mechanics is less important than a good story and an immersive hero. So what if you have an open-world sandbox if there’s no narrative. So what if you have an great action passed game when there is no drama around what you are hack’n’slashing?
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