THE BIG GAME: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

MCV speaks to developer CD Projekt RED’s joint CEO and co-founder Marcin Iwiński about the next chapter in the franchise.

There are a number of ways of gauging how popular your game franchise is – how many units it has sold, the amount of money you have made and its score on Metacritic.  

But when one of your games is name-dropped by the President of the United States when he visits your home country, you know that it might be a bit of a big deal.

“It’s so great,” says Marcin Iwiński, who is one of Polish studio CD Projekt RED’s founders and CEOs. “When President Obama was last in Poland, the prime minister gave him a copy of The Witcher 2 and when he came back he mentioned it so it meant that there’s definitely a lot of attention about the Polish games industry.

“I’m sure Obama isn’t mentioning it without a reason. We are on the radar and we’re getting more and more known around the world.”

The Witcher is Polish through and through, based on books by local author Andrzej Sapkowski.

“I read the first story in high school and started to think how cool it would be to make it into a game. Sapkowski might not have realised it, but his literature was perfect for a game,” says Iwiński.

And being mentioned by Obama isn’t even the biggest name drop the series has received recently.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was one of three RPG titles shown off as a part of Microsoft’s Press Briefing at this year’s E3 – the other two being Fable and Dragon Age Inquisition. But Iwiński is not intimidated by this competition.

“Dragon Age is coming out this year [The Witcher 3 is due in February 2015] and Fableis targeted at a different audience entirely. There isn’t any competition. I sincerely hope that RPG gamers will buy all of them.”

Appearing on Microsoft’s stage with such illustrious company was just one part of a big E3 for The Witcher.

The Witcher was our first game and we have grown up alongside the series.
If you look at how the relationship with women was in The Witcher 2,
we are improving. Maybe the sex cards in the first game were
crossing the line a bit, but in The Witcher 2 and 3 we are
trying to depict sex as a part of the story.

CD Projekt RED joint CEO and co-founder Marcin Iwiński

The game was playable on the show floor, too. This clearly won the hearts and minds of those present as Wild Hunt went on to win both IGN and GameSpot’s People’s Choice Award as the Game of the Show.

“We had a great success at E3,” gushes Iwiński. “We’ve been showing more stuff and kicked off the show with a showcase during the Microsoft Media Briefing.

“And we had a five-minute demo, showing highly polished gameplay, as well as a 20-minute presentation behind closed doors at Warner Bros’ booth (who is publishing The Witcher 3 in North America).

“We got over 40 awards at E3 and 2,500 visitors to the booth. Winning GameSpot’s and IGN’s People’s Choice prize felt pretty important. That’s the vote of the gamers. It’s important to know that you are on the right track.”

These aren’t the first awards Wild Hunt has received. Before E3, European publishing partner Bandai Namco was showing off the 90 industry awards the title had won so far. It’s clearly something to be proud of, but it also adds a layer of pressure.

“Development makes me nervous. You have to deliver a great game,” says Iwiński. “We are thrilled with the awards we have won but there is a lot of pressure. We are trying to make sure the pressure is motivating. Having said that, we aren’t getting awards out of nowhere.

“We’re showing finished pieces of the game. Of course it’s a sample, but the media and gamers’ judgement is based on something concrete. We are not showing anything fake.”

FROM SCREEN TO TABLE

The Witcher 3 isn’t the only game from the series on the release schedule. CD Projekt RED is working on a physical and digital board game entitled The Witcher Adventure Game, as well as a MOBA title: The Witcher Battle Arena.

“The Witcher books are in our DNA. When you have such a great world, you are tempted to expand the universe,” explains the studio’s joint CEO and co-founder Marcin Iwiński.

“We have a lot of board game fans in the studio and we decided to work on it. We teamed up with one of the best board game designers who happens to be Polish and is now our distributor. We liked what was created, started showing it around and signed a worldwide deal with Fantasy Flight Games.

“It’s happening out of passion. If it is of a high quality, can add something to the whole franchise, and it is fun for players then we’re going to give it a chance.

“Battle Arena is the same. We play a lot of MOBAs. There was a battle mode in The Witcher 2 so it was a case of mixing those two things. It isn’t going to challenge any of the big MOBAs out there. It’s our attempt at a MOBA and we hope that gamers will like it.”

Iwiński concludes: “But The Witcher 3 is still the big game and the core release.”

Earlier in the year the game was delayed until February 2015 from its original 2014 release date. Fans were disappointed, but CD Projekt insists it was the right thing to do.

“There is never enough time for a big game,” Iwiński says. “The extra time allows us to polish the title. It was an opportunity we really had to take to make a perfect product.”

CD Projekt RED has gone all out with the latest iteration of The Witcher series. It boasts that Wild Hunt is 30 times the size of its predecessor and for the first time players have free reign to explore the world at their leisure.

“We have a gigantic open world with a non-linear story,” explains Iwiński. “Previous games were chapter-based, and once you were done with one segment, the next was loading and you couldn’t go back.

“It’s all about freedom for the gamer. They need to have a feeling that it is natural. If you go somewhere and certain options are closed behind you unless you load a previously saved game, it can feel artificial.

“You have the option to move around the world. Of course, you can go through the main quest, what you do is really up to you. It’s a story-driven game in an open world but you have lots of freedom.”

This leap in size was made possible by Sony and Microsoft’s shiny new hardware. Even before they were unveiled last year, CD Projekt was hard at work deciding what it wanted its next iteration of the series to be. As a result it was never intended to come to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as the studio’s ambitions were just not possible on those consoles. 

“We wanted to make a huge uncompromising world with a lavish, classical setting,” explains Iwiński. “There’s a huge RPG behind all of that, but we really wanted to differentiate ourselves in terms of presentation with the freedom of movement in the world. The game was always made with next-gen in mind.

“When Microsoft and Sony visited us with the hardware and we saw what it was capable of we breathed a sigh of relief. We found that what we wanted to do was going to be possible on these machines.

He concludes: “The Witcher 3 just wouldn’t work on the older consoles. Had we made it for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 it would have been a very different game.”

SEXUAL FRUSTRATION

For all the praise The Witcher has received, it has also come under scrutiny for its depiction of women.

The first game featured romance cards, which were gained for seducing female characters.But CD Projekt RED joint CEO and co-founder Marcin Iwiński tells MCV that the series has evolved past this point.

“The Witcher was our first game and we have grown up alongside the series. If you look at how the relationship with women was in The Witcher 2, we are improving,” he explains. “Maybe the sex cards in the first game were crossing the line a bit, but in The Witcher 2 and 3 we are trying to depict sex as a part of the story.”

Iwiński also says that the franchise’s sexism is merely a part of an accurate depiction of a medieval society.

“For us it’s just a part of the world,” he says. “I always relate it to Game of Thrones. We’re not that far off from what is happening there. It’s a part of a true medieval world. And what you see in The Witcher games is probably a lot better than it was in the medieval period.”