Big Download got the game's senior producer Tomasz Gop to give us the lowdown on the sequel including how save games from The Witcher will work in The Witcher 2, whether US audiences will get the full "adult" treatment out of the box and more.
First, the original Witcher game has become something of a sleeper hit in the US and indeed in the rest of the world. Do you think it proves there is still an audience for high end fantasy RPGs?
I think it's always been there. It's pretty much the same question as, "Do you think PC gaming will die?" RPG games are among the most complex to implement, test, balance, etc. - maybe that's why this genre isn't as strongly represented on the market as, say, shooters. Still it doesn't mean that the RPG audience is decreasing. Some even say it's good for the market - you've probably got way more crappy shooters released than RPGs these days...
When the time came to start work on the sequel, what were the development team's main goals?
It's always about the feedback from fans and media for us. We got nice reviews and solid community feedback, so we extracted the most important factors behind The Witcher's success. It was clear that the storyline and the setting were key. We've said, "hey, we have lots of ideas to give even more immersion to the players who liked our story" and started thinking about implementing the new engine. Let me stress it - the main reason behind creating our own tech was the RPG stuff, not just visuals. Given this, we focused part of the team on two things - the basis of the new engine and solid storyline/gameplay vision. After a year (around the time we released The Witcher: Enhanced Edition) we moved the whole team to the sequel.
We have heard that if you hold onto your save games for The Witcher you can import them into the sequel. How will that work and how will that affect the gameplay?
It can't be more obvious now - we are doing a saga. :) So, there are things important enough that we'd like to include them in TW2, such as the main storyline choices or Geralt's best weapons. We will manifest the choices in the new game for all those who import their save games, but of course there's also a generic beginning for the newcomers. I'm not trying to say that absolutely everything will be imported from the save game - there are things (like much of your inventory for example) that you'll have to leave behind.
How does the storyline in The Witcher 2 continue from the original?
Pretty straight forward. If you remember the outro of The Witcher, some bad things were almost done by some bad guy to some very important person... Geralt definitely wants to find out more about the motives, and that (the game's subtitle: Assassins of Kings) becomes the main plot. First however, King Foltest needs our help to quell the last sources of rebellion in Temeria - that's exactly where the storyline of the sequel starts. There's around a two-month gap between TW1 and TW2 storyline, but you won't miss anything crucial. Oh and of course, as with any sequel - it's bigger (terrain scale, politics, emotions), better (graphics and storytelling), and more badass (combat)! :)
What were some of the things that the development team wanted to improve upon in The Witcher 2 compared to the original?
Am I going to repeat myself if I say narration? Ok now, let's think about the other stuff... RPG mechanics! We've modified the character development toward a more gameplay-oriented system. In The Witcher 2, you can choose the way you shape your own Witcher - magic, sword, alchemy. All that leads to a different feel you get from gameplay. It's harder for a sword-oriented player to perform an effective combination of cuts and magical signs (because of the character development trade-offs) than it would be to give opponent a lethal sequence of sword strikes. Oh yeah, and the graphics of course - it's going to be the best looking RPG ever.
How will the sequel handle features like magic and combat skills this time?
We've started with the assumption that everything you've learned throughout the first game is already available to you, so the player won't be learning all the five signs, for example. But they're at a basic level, so there's still plenty room for enhancement, and additionally we've dropped in a new sign that you will learn in The Witcher 2. The combat, however, was changed much more. All we cared about was to present the player with more believable movement and set of skills -ones that really suit a witcher. So we ditched the relatively passive, timing-based approach toward sequences of strikes, and instead everything is real-time. I don't think any player is going to miss any combat functionality of The Witcher, because it's still possible to fight in strong, fast, or group style. It's just not as predefined as before, and now anyone can mix elements together.
We have heard that the game is shorter but "more intense". What exactly does that mean?
It might take less time to walk through a main storyline of The Witcher 2 than it would in the previous game. But if we do it right (there are still some focus-tests ahead of us, and we've not got to beta yet), the players will feel that it's because the long, travelling-based quests are missing. We don't want to miss any of the important action - just all those "Fed-Ex" quests. Second thing, I think people don't expect the size of changes we've made in terms of the storyline's scale. Whereas The Witcher was a game about (among other things) a rebellion that took place in Temeria, The Witcher 2 is about politics and emotions that involve many kingdoms and dig much deeper into Geralt's past. The one he's forgotten... almost.
What are some of the development team's favorite enemies in The Witcher 2?
You might have already seen Tentadrake, which is by far the biggest opponent we've done, but I can promise that my favorite ones are still to be revealed. I get the feeling that parts of our team prefer different opponents because they require different tactics. There's one that especially gets you into the middle of the action and I'm really looking forward to presenting people this one. Unless we'll keep it for after the release... who knows what's better. :) We're not quite ready to talk about the enemies in the game yet, but we will!
CD Projekt chose to make its own graphics engine this time for the sequel. Why was that decision made and what kinds of graphical features does it contain?
As I mentioned before it wasn't only about graphics, but yeah - we took the opportunity and wrote the whole renderer from scratch. I won't go into details (as there will still be time for this), but we definitely have more tools to help us with realistic design - both for environments and the characters. Weather, daylight cycle and living communities - it's all more dynamic now. We're not predefining almost anything. Settings for dialogues, cinematics and other scenes happen whenever you trigger them, and not when we script it.
Will The Witcher 2 be released in the US in its intended version this time rather that letting people wait for a patch to unlock some "adult" content?
Frankly, I think we're gonna make it this time. We haven't put more or less nudity and violence into The Witcher 2. It's just I think things have changed slightly. From what I recall around 2007 not too many games showed nipples for example. Now it's so common that I just think the mindset has shifted and since we've stayed the same - it might work this time around. By the way - we have redesigned the visual aspect of sex in the game. You won't have "collectible" cards this time - we've presented things with cinematics, and additionally we bound all threads with the storyline.
Finally is there anything else you wish to say about The Witcher 2 at this point?
Yeah, sure - I want to tell you who the killer is, but I can't! ;)