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2005.12.23. - Kwish

The Witcher - We asked the developer...

We've been tracking the development news of 'The Witcher' for long, and now we arrived to the point where we sought out the developer CD Projekt. Our questions were answered by Rafal Nowocien (Level designer), Michal Kicinski (Joint CEO) and Joanna Kobylecka (PR Specialist)

RPGvault.hu: With what kind of attributes and abilities do you describe the main character (and what do they influence)?
Rafal Nowocien: In the game, there are four basic attributes: Strength, Agility, Stamina and Intelligence. Each attribute is a 'skill tree' which the player can buy – for example, in the Agility category there is 'Advanced Dodge', 'Shot Deflect' or 'Reflex'.
During the course of the game we can make use of many different kinds of weapon which fall into our hands, such as axes or daggers, but our basic arms are swords - silver for monsters and steel for "ordinary" villains. All monsters have their own specific battle tactics, for example they attack the player in groups, from all sides, or they deal huge, sweeping blows. By making use of the different sword-fighting techniques, we can find the most effective way to do battle with each opponent. The increased power of this skill (upgrade) appears as additional wounds inflicted by the hero during combat and in his greater resistance to critical wounds. The player gradually learns to use increasingly more advanced combat skills and tricks. As a specialist, for example, in group style (fighting with several opponents at once), we can learn how to decapitate, which of course eliminates the opponent from the rest of the battle :). At the beginning, we don’t manage this very often, but by practising these skills at increasingly higher levels, we gradually reach the stage that slicing off even several heads at once doesn't present much of a problem.
This same method is employed in perfecting the skills required to use Signs. For example, if we develop our knowledge of the Sign Igni, we learn how to use it ever more effectively – from setting light to a piece of paper to flame-throwing. We always start off the game in the same way, with no skills or knowledge of Signs. It's only during the course of the game that we have the chance to develop our character in a particular way. It's a flexible system which gives the player a wide range of ways in which to mould the hero. We can concentrate on developing advanced battle techniques and thus learning Signs only at a basic level; or vice-versa – we can focus more on developing a greater knowledge of Signs, and less on developing our fighting abilities. There is also a third route, which we could describe as "social" – the player goes for his sword and spells less often (which doesn't mean that infrequently!); he is smart, a smooth talker and has a strong head for alcohol, and thanks to this, it's easier for him to achieve his goal (for example to complete a given task), by persuading his companions to see his point of view, rather than by doing battle with them. Basically the player has absolute freedom in his choice of all abilities, it is entirely up to the player as to whether he will create a hero who has a high level of skill in one narrow field, or has an average level of skill in many different spheres.

RPGvault.hu: What can you tell us about the character development? Do we gain XP dominantly through fights/battles/combat, or rather through the accomplishment of quests? What happen if the character reaches the next level, how can we level up our hero? Would you please give us more detailed briefings about the skill advancement system of the game?
Rafal Nowocien: The Witcher is an extended RPG game, in which completing tasks and winning battles with monsters play an important role, so it's not hard to guess that many experience points are gained during combat. When the hero advances to the next level, he wins special points which can be used to increase the character's main features and to increase his skill with weapons. In using these points, the hero can learn selected combat styles, as I mentioned earlier, or become more skilful in using Signs. The system used to develop skills is like the popular "tree" model - as shown in the diagram.

As can be seen, the development of a particular attribute (in this case Strength) occurs through learning skills related to that attribute. What's more, each skill can be made more powerful by learning particular strengths related to that skill (upgrade). For example: the first skill which can be learned by developing Strength (Ability I) is awarded extra Hit Points. The increased power of this skill (upgrade) appears as additional wounds inflicted by the hero during combat and in his greater resistance to critical wounds. In order to gain the next skill level (Ability II) we must first achieve the previous level (Ability I). This requirement does not refer to strengthening – we don't have to learn this if we don't want to (but it's a good idea, as additional strength is worth having during combat). This system of developing skills refers, of course, to the remaining attributes, combat skills and use of witcher Signs.

RPGvault.hu: We already know that Geralt is a lone wolf. However, are there any joinable NPCs? If so, how much control does the player have over them?
Rafal Nowocien:For the greater part of the game, the witcher travels alone, which is in part due to the conventions as described in Sapkowski's novels, and in part as a direct result of his profession – Geralt, after all, is a slayer of monsters, which often means that he faces great danger. However, a variety of NPC's join him briefly from time to time, and help him to undertake specific tasks. These are sometimes... women, lured by his reputation as an experienced womanizer :), which causes many unexpected and amusing situations. In our game, which is intended for an adult audience, the player often finds himself alone with a beautiful, but often dangerous woman, and then it’s up to him what happens next...
The NPC's who attach themselves to the player are controlled mainly through dialogue. They can leave the player at will, if he abuses their trust or to complete their own mission (for example, the mother of a lost child can go her own way to try and find her baby).

RPGvault.hu: Geralt can use some magical gestures, so-called "signs". Please tell us how many and what kind of signs will be in the game. Is it possible to modify them somehow?
Rafal Nowocien: Signs are a manifestation of the supernatural powers of the witchers. In short, they can be described as a type of simple but effective spell. We anticipate that the witcher will be able to use 5 different signs, of differing effects. For example, the most basic sign, Aard, is a kind of psychokinetic punch, which knocks the opponent over and can break through weak barriers, whilst Axii affects the opponent's mind. The strength and function of Signs can be developed along with the increasing levels of experience, in the same way as sword-fighting skills – we have five levels of Signs strengths, and the difference between the first and the last levels is quite significant. In addition, we can configure the additional effects of Signs as we wish, and even make fairly radical modifications to the way they work. For example, the Axii sign can change an enemy into a friend, but also cause panic in a group of opponents, and Aard can be configured to widen its field of effect (from a narrow area just in front of the player even to the whole hemisphere before him), or can also be used to break down doors, knock down or knock out opponents, or to knock weapons out of their hands. Each of these functions is a separate speciality within one Sign, which can also be further strengthened, for example by increasing the coverage of a certain speciality or the amount of time the Sign is effective (upgrade), as mentioned earlier. These increased powers not only raise the level of available skills, but also broaden their possible functions. For example, one of the increased functions of the Aard sign (the kinetic punch) allows us to use it in a new way – to knock a door off its hinges, which is particularly useful when we find we've forgotten our keys :).

RPGvault.hu: The combat will be real-time in The Witcher. Has the combat system got some special features which differentiates the game from other RPGs? Will there be any special combat abilities, combat movements?
Rafal Nowocien: Yes - of course the combat system in the Witcher is pretty unique and innovative. Right from the early battle concept stages, through control and the special skills of the hero, we have come up with a very good mix of different, interesting solutions. Firstly, we have a series of combat tactics, set according to the two types of sword (silver for monsters and steel for humans) and three combat styles for each (fast - lightning blows with a high chance of hitting the target but inflicting light wounds; strong - inflicts heavy wounds but is slow and inaccurate; group - fighting against several opponents at once), as well as the use of magic Signs and witchers' elixirs. These elements alone will not guarantee success in battle, but when used together they mutually strengthen their operation and effectiveness. There is also an important agility element – the possibility of performing a sequence of increasingly powerful blows (by clicking with the rhythm of the battle) and of using intensified attacks and magic. And this is all controlled by just the mouse and two keys, something which makes learning the game much easier.
One of the most important elements of the gameplay, which we strongly emphasise, is the rich combat styles. It is one of the most important elements of our game, and something which distinguishes it from competing games on the market, which only offer the use of two or three blows at the most. We can defeat our opponents in many different and effective ways, and each one is specially prepared to be used against a specific type of opponent. On top of this, Geralt has a whole range of "finishers", or extra-special, impressive blows which finish off a fight. My favourite finishers are combinations where Geralt plunges both swords into his victim's body, then shoves it away with a vicious kick, also a blow with a hook, which rips the enemy’s head off, or holds it in position ready to be sliced off with the sword. In practice, the player rarely uses just one battle style. Depending on the situation and the opponents, clashes in "The Witcher" are a mix of stunning sword fights, casting of Signs, drinking of elixirs and fights with burning torches or fist fights. The player may make use of all of these possibilities, depending on his preference, but combat using swords and Signs, is, in the majority of cases, quite simply the most effective.

RPGvault.hu: What kind of enemies can we meet/encounter in the game? What can we expect from the A.I. in The Witcher regarding hostile creatures/NPCs? What are our enemies' standard tactics?
Rafal Nowocien: In The Witcher, we meet many opponents, including "typical" monsters and NPC's. The latter group includes different kinds of bandits, beggars, criminals, deserters and assassins, whilst amongst the monsters there will be beasts that are well-known to Sapkowski fans - in the game we see zombies, drowned deads (water zombies), ysgards (living herds of fish-people), noon demons, (bloodsucking ghosts of young girls), giant insects, wolves and many other creatures. All opponents will be equipped with advanced AI scripts – during combat they will be able to flank the player, make escapes, lure the hero into ambushes, or follow him through a certain section of the route. Whereas monsters will have a series of special, supernatural and extremely powerful skills and attacks. For example, vampires can cast a spell on the player which prevents him from attacking for a period of time, and giant insects can "bury" themselves underground, then appear behind the player and attack him from the rear. Each type of adversary will have a specific combat tactic – the player must learn which tactic is most effective against a given opponent. For example, the armoured knight can protect himself with his shield, blocking all the player's attacks, but by using a combination of bluffs and dodges, Geralt can find a convenient position to carry out a successful attack. If we are fighting against a quick and nimble opponent, we have to corner him and cut off any chance of attack or escape, or also, by using the right Sign, trip him up, which will give us a few seconds to carry out an attack. This is another interesting element in The Witcher – learning about each creature’s possibilities and the best way to field each attack.

RPGvault.hu: Will there be "bosses" in the game? Could you describe some of them? What kind of special features do they have?
Rafal Nowocien: Of course, there are plenty of bosses in the game, which the player fights with in specially prepared areas which are particularly worth noting (e.g. in a secret cave or a picturesque hillside with views of the whole area). Amongst the bosses there will be monsters like, for example, the zeugl, which is basically a huge cuttlefish which lives underground and has multiple-limb tentacles (something like Sarlacc in 'Return of the Jedi'), or the enormous and virtually indestructible golem. My favourite boss is a skeletal shell, an armoured crab the size of a small shed, who fights with his front limbs. We meet him at various moments in the game and to start with, our chances of beating him are not good. The monster grows in stages, always one step ahead of our skills, and by the time we finally reach the closing stages of the battle, he is truly enormous. Bosses will have special combat skills at their disposal, but for now, we can't give away any more details on this subject.

RPGvault.hu: How interactive will the game-world be, how can we interact with the NPCs?
Rafal Nowocien: The game world is interactive at two levels. The first of these is, let’s say, physical interaction. The player will be able to manipulate different objects, break barrels, sit at tables, go to bed, sleep, etc.
The second type of interaction, which basically you don’t come across in games, is fictional interaction. Depending on the actions of the player and whether these give him a good overall reputation, the NPC’s he meets will react to him in different, unpredictable ways. If, for example, we help the baker in the town sort out some problem, all the local tradesmen will respond favourably to us – they will gladly chat, give tasks, they might even drop the price of their wares. On the other hand, if we upset someone, the reaction might be the opposite. It works just the same way as in our world – if you move to a new house, you don't know anyone, but gradually you form an opinion of your neighbours, as they do of you. Some might think you’re a good bloke, especially if you help fix their car, and others will take you for a miserable brute, just because you forgot to say "good morning". We've used a similar system in our game. The game world is not black and white; we don’t have such definite distinctions between good and bad characters, as, for example, in "The Lords of the Rings", where there are good elves and bad orcs. In "The Witcher", the elves can behave totally ruthlessly, without any concern for humans, who in turn discard them as a burdensome relic of the past. Geralt's world is dark and morally 'dirty' – the hero cannot trust anyone; so-called friends will betray him without a second thought, and in most places, the hero is not welcomed – he is tolerated for as long as he is useful.

RPGvault.hu: Will there be any greater interest groups / fractions in the game? Could you please give us some hints about their goals and intentions?
Rafal Nowocien: The world of the game is divided between many forces which battle against each other. In the southern part of the game world we find the mighty empire of Nilfgaard. Following a failed armed invasion on their neighbours, they have no intention of prolonging these attempts at armed conquest – through the destruction of their neighbours' fields and industries they force them to buy goods from Nilfgaard and therefore make them economically dependent. Another important kingdom is Redania and Temeria. Many important events in the game will take place in Temeria itself. This is an interesting place for many reasons – it borders with Brokilon in the south, an enclave of druid-warriors, from whom no one has ever escaped with their life; and with Mahakam in the east, a chain of rocky mountains, where many gnome settlements and mines can be found. Following the end of the recent war between Nilfgaard and the northern kingdoms, there is still unease in Teremia and the surrounding areas. Battles between groups of elves are continuing in the borders; they carry out unexpected raids on border villages and outposts, whilst on the roads and tracks, groups of deserters and bandits are gathering. On the one hand, we have the ruler of Temeria, King Foltest, who wants to maintain his rule and influence, and on the other, more or less secret organisations, who also – by force or by cunning, want to exercise their influence on the chain of events. Yet another faction is the non-humans, who are most visible in the form of command stations of elf terrorists, fighting against humans. All these forces aim to lure the witchers over to their side and exploit them to achieve their own ends.

RPGvault.hu: What kinds of puzzles and mini-games will there be in the game? How do you guarantee the replayability value of the game?
Rafal Nowocien: We plan to implement several mini-games within the main game, such as fist fights, drinking competitions, gambling with dice, etc. The number of peripheral activities will be much greater than the main tasks, so no one will be able to complain about the lack of additional attractions during the course of the game. We envisage three entirely different endings to the game, depending on the choices the player makes during the course of the game – many players will undoubtedly want to discover the alternative endings. When going through the game again, we will have the possibility to develop the character in a completely different way from the previous game, by developing different skills. Thanks to this, certain stages of the game may be easier or harder than before – if we develop the next character as more of a fighter than previously, then we’ll have fewer options open to us in dialogue situations, but it will be easier to fight with and defeat monsters.

RPGvault.hu: Does the very positive media response to E3 make it easier to find a publisher? Do you have any achievement in this regard?
Joanna Kobylecka: Ever since we exhibited the game for the first time at E3 in 2004, and again at E3 in 2005, we have noticed an ever-increasing interest in The Witcher. At the Games Convention in Leipzig the level of interest and the positive feedback we received from participants was a pleasant surprise for us. A huge amount of people visited our stand. It was also important that, at this event, we had a really well prepared stand, with separate stations where we could present particular elements of the game. This allowed us to give visitors a precise presentation of the game, which definitely worked in our favour. RPG games are exceptionally complicated and it's difficult to show their composition in a short amount of time. At GC, we were able to show the game even more successfully than at E3, where we only demonstrated how battles are executed. In spite of the very positive comments we received after E3, some people thought that the game content was only combat, which of course is not true. This happened because we chose to present just that one aspect.
The positive response to the game after both E3 and GC has of course helped us greatly in attracting potential publishers, and in generating general interest in the game. After these events, lots of journalists came to see us, including someone from the prestigious magazine EDGE, where a six page article appeared, and from the biggest German game magazine, Gamestar. These positive vibrations reach the publishers and motivate them to find out more about our project. Because of this, we believe the moment when we can announce a publisher for the game is getting closer and closer. The most important thing for us is to find a company which understands our project and can guarantee the necessary support.

RPGvault.hu: Any final thoughts?
Joanna Kobylecka: To finish off, we would like to thank you for reading this article and say hello to all RPG fans in Hungary! We hope that we’ve brought the game that we’re working on, at least a little bit closer to you. If you have any more questions, please visit our discussion forum at www.thewitcher.com.

RPGvault.hu: Thanks for your answers, and good luck! We hope to get some good news shortly about the publisher!