I’m fairly convinced that Witcher 3 is going to be amazing. During the last half of the year we’ve talked to developers three times, discussing not only the new Witcher, but also another ambitious RPG that’s been developed in CD Project RED for two years already. We’ve seen Witcher 3 with our own eyes, and it DID have all the promised fixes, improvements and the open world. No doubt — CDP does everything the right way, and our latest talk with CEO Marcin Iwinski is just another proof of that.
So, first of all, when I’ve entered the demo and saw the older Geralt, I immediately drew comparisons between your game and Metal Gear Solid series… Have you played it, by the way?
Yes, I’ve played some of the Metal Gear Solid back in the days. But I don’t think we’re looking at it this way. It’s more a development of the Geralt himself and he’s obviously getting older as the story progresses. The Witcher 3 is going to be a closure of the trilogy so we wanted to show more experienced, more mature and seasoned Geralt. Comparing to human age he’s pretty old, but we also wanted to show the burden that he’s carrying and I think it’s very visible from him.
As for Metal Gear Solid and other games — definitely there’s a lot of inspiration and I think that a lot of it is subconscious, because people at the team are gamers, they have different tastes, they play a lot of different games, and I think subliminally they just put it into concept and then it influences their creation.
There were news about you opening a new studio in Krakow. So how is it doing? How big is it?
The studio is over twenty people and it consists of experienced RPG creators who made games like Two Worlds and Two Worlds II. At a certain point we were contacted by this group of people from Krakow, some of them working at Reality Pump, some of them have already left the company, and they said «Guys, we’d love to join the studio, we love what you’re doing, but you know, we’d really like to work in Krakow». We did suggest to move their studio to Warsaw, but it seems that it was important for them to set up in Krakow.
What is really great is that the team is really experienced. It's not so common, because there are not so many RPG oriented studios in the world and we’re lucky to have one more group, and a great one, in our country, so we didn’t think too long before opening the studio. Right now one of our producers is spending a lot of time there: they call us on a regular basis, set up streams of what they are doing and we strongly believe they’ll deliver some kick-ass stuff.
So it was more about the people, who would like to join you, and wasn't a necessary business decision?
No, no. It wasn’t a business decision like «Hey, we should expand», nothing like that. What we’re doing is very much about passion. When you come for a job interview, we will expect a candidate to set us on fire, in a way. Whether it’s marketing or finance or game development, we want to see your passion, and then we’ll obviously ask what games are you playing, why you like them and things like that. And if it’s a development position we’ll be checking how deep is your love for games. Our job is about employing the most passionate people to create great games, and people from Krakow without a doubt have a lot of passion. I think it’s a good match.
To tell the truth when I first read the news about the opening of a new studio, my first thought was that you didn’t have enough resources to finish Cyberpunk or The Witcher 3 because both are obviously massive projects. Still, maybe you can name a feature or two that grew out of control and became more complex than you’ve originally intended?
It’s funny because only here in Russia I have a lot of questions like «What features you didn’t include in the game?» A lot of people are asking about it and I can’t give them an answer because producing the game is a balancing act, and it’s by far not about features, but more about the final feel of the game. «There’s this feature, there’s that feature» — I think gamers don’t really care, they basically just want to enjoy the game. Details? I don’t know… We wanted to have faster boats and we didn’t make it, but it wouldn’t make much difference, I don’t think so.
Ultimately, there’s simply a huge open world nobody has ever done before. The game is more than 35x bigger than the world of The Witcher 2 and it's populated, the world is living and breathing. The last thing we want to do is to bore the gamer. When you have such a huge space to travel, you really expect something things to happen around you. Maybe it’s not like the real world, but come on, it’s a computer game and you are here to have fun, not to be bored. So we’re definitely expanding our resources to work on the game: as it’s an open world, we generally need to create more assets. But ultimately we could’ve finished The Witcher 3 without opening the Krakow studio. They’re helping in, but they’re working on their own thing first of all. I won’t say it was lack of resources that convinced us to set up Krakow studio, but more importantly their passion for RPG games and their invaluable knowledge of how to make them.
You always emphasize the size of The Witcher 3 and I guess the Cyberpunk should be about the same scale. In the future you’ll be striving to make bigger and more mature games?
There’s always question «What is more?» Like, if we make a game five times longer than usual will gamers enjoy it? I think it’s all about the story, the characters, their development and how you go through it, so definitely we’ll be experimenting with new ways to tell a story. Cyberpunk definitely will be offering a lot of new ideas. But we’re working on that really hard already in The Witcher 3. The game engages the player much better. We really wanted to improve on what we did in The Witcher 2 in terms of the initial immersion for a gamer, though. In Russia, in Poland, in Germany gamers are different, we are more hardcore. If it’s a hard game it only motivates us. But if you look at Western Europe and especially US, which is a very important market, if a gamer feels that the immersion is steep, the game is hard and you die a lot at the beginning, people will most likely drop the game and say that it wasn't good enough. We don’t want that to happen. «Easy to play — Hard to master» is what we are after. And I draw a lot of comparisons between games and TV series — for example Game of Thrones…
I’ve heard a lot about it...
Good! Definitely watch it. I strongly recommend it, because it's based on books from George Martin.
So, I drew some comparisons between themes, and the maturity of the world, complexity of the story. I remember when I was reading this book and thought «Damn, it would be really hard to make a good TV show out of it». Then the TV show came out and I was stunned: from the very beginning they've played it right. It was different from the book but at the same time the medium is captured extremely well. The same is with the game, its ideas — you sit down for a moment, you start playing and then can't put it down hours straight, like with a book. We would like our games to become something like this.
Now let’s say you stopped playing a game, and you are busy for two weeks and then when you come back to it, you already can't remember what is it exactly you were doing there. And how would TV series deal with something like that? You see this «Previously on Game of Thrones» sequence, for example, and you refresh recent events of the series in your memory and can easily watch it afterwards. In a game, after a long break, you often find yourself in a situation when you don't remember what are you doing in a particular location or who are these characters in front of you. I've dropped out of Skyrim after playing it for 20 hours or something, and then I had a very hard time coming back. These are quite simple things and in theory are very intuitive. In practice they rarely are, though. That's why I think it's important not to break the immersion. We’re all about making a game you can play the way you like it while not letting the narrative lose the pace.
So when both games, The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk, are done, are you going to focus on a next big RPG or maybe something different?
I can tell you one thing for sure: we’ll be doing story-driven mature RPG and this is what we think we’re pretty good at. It’s really very early to say and we’ll see when the time comes, but right now we really want to focus fully on The Witcher 3 and take all of our skills to a next level, so that we can really deliver a multiplatform story-driven RPG in an open world. That’s the main goal. After that we’ll probably set a new goal that is even higher to achieve!
When you work with something for a long time you probably learn all its strengths and weaknesses. You’ve been working with big RPG titles for a while now. What are the common troubles with modern RPG?
Okay, it’s very simple: it’s closing the project! Closing it with a high quality bar and high playability value for a gamer at the same time. There is always a possibility that we will close the project and then some things will not work. In Eastern Europe that is a big problem with a lot of games, to be honest. They’re unfinished, buggy or sometimes not working at all. All the elements must be perfected and at the same time you should finish it on time without exceeding the budget, and this is some hardcore shit. I remember there was some research from NASA in terms of difficulty of different industries. So the first and most difficult one was what NASA is doing: sending people to the Moon or Mars. The second place belongs to video games.
The problem is that all of the elements are constantly moving: the technology is changing, there are new platforms — Mac, mobile, etc. They’re connected and on top of that you’re making a non-linear game where all the elements have already moved again. So the question when you're closing a project is usually «Where to stop?» These are the things gamers usually don’t think about. And they’re right, they’re paying their hard-earned money to have fun. If it’s so hard to properly finish the game, then you shouldn’t sell it in the first place.
So we’re always focused on finishing the game, polishing it to the highest possible level and then supporting it after release. You have to do it all the time, especially on PC, where there are a lot of issues with compatibility and things like that. We really believe that we should support the game heavily, you know, release enhanced editions, updates, free small DLC, etc.
Do you think that games heavily relying on realism have a future? Not combat simulation games like ArmA but very complex games that would, for example, simulate a life in a metropolis where you could enter every building and talk to every citizen? Would it make sense to try to recreate our life with such precision in a computer game?
Yeah, this question is always opened, isn't it. If it’s boring simulator — I would totally not be interested. There has to be something more to it. A lot of people play games to relax, so the main question should be whether it's relaxing or entertaining you?
And again, our profession is to tell great stories. Whether I’m watching TV or reading books I generally want to have a bit of fun with that or I want the medium to make me think about certain things. Maybe something important that you don't think about every day in your usual life. If it’s a part of the game — it’s cool. If it’s just a simple simulator you have to ask yourself what is the goal? Of course, there are games like SimCity, for example, where there is a kind of economic model and management system and there’s always a certain goal. That works well. Everything could work as long there’s a certain group of gamers that finds it cool. As for us — we’re all about story.