Marcin Iwinski's love for games and his passion for the work his company does are infectious. Having started out as a publisher and distributor in Poland, CD Projekt announced itself on the world stage with The Witcher series of role-playing games, and then with its ever-popular, DRM-free digital distribution service, GOG.com.
This year, its development studio, CD Projekt RED, is set to release the wildly ambitious The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which floored audiences at E3 and swept the show with over 50 awards. We had a chance to chat with Iwinski at length about The Witcher 3 and what lies ahead for the series; GOG.com and the future of retail; its next project Cyberpunk 2077; DRM and piracy; and a whole lot more.
The Witcher 3 is massive in scope and design, and it uses a new engine, so one of the concerns for PC gamers is the system requirements. How demanding will the game be on PC hardware?
We still haven't announced anything on the system requirements side. I'll just say that, if you remember when The Witcher 2 was launched and what it demanded from PCs then, you should expect something similar to that. If you have a one or two year-old PC - on average because people have different computers – it should run pretty good, but if you want to be the best guy in town, go and buy a new card [laughs].
We really believe that RPG games shouldn't be different in terms of visuals than shooters. They should blow you away. Our aim is not to make a game that works on every single PC. That would be great, but then we would have to sacrifice the graphics. Graphics are an extremely important part of the whole visual experience. At the same time, if you have the strongest PC hardware – which is already more powerful than the new consoles – you will be able to get more out of it. If you remember, The Witcher 2 had an Uber setting, and for that you had to go to the store and buy the new stuff. Hey can I have the most expensive card?” And then the motherboard, and the processer, and then the Uber mode would work.
You guys tend to do awesome collector's editions. What do you have planned for The Witcher 3?
We'll be announcing the editions when we begin the preorders in a couple of months. Our background is of gamers. We are gamers and we started this company because of the passion for games, and we've always loved collecting the loot. If you look at the studio working on The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077, we've got 300 people, and it's 300 really geeky people, and they spend a lot of money on games. They keep bringing in these boxes – editions of Hitman or Batman or whatever and they discuss and argue about the quality of stuff. So we aim for a very high quality of stuff for our editions. That's the fanboy part of the whole thing.
The second important aspect, which is the case with The Witcher 3, is that what you get in the box really makes you want to keep the game and not trade it in. It's a collector's item so we believe people should be rewarded for spending their money. Whenever I buy a game and receive a naked disc and the manual in a PDF, I'm personally offended. So this is a way, also, to protect against piracy and I think it's vital in a market like India. In Poland it's exactly the same. For many years, we were distributing games in Poland - and we still are – and our fight against piracy was always to build the physical volumes.
Like with The Witcher 2, there will be two editions – a collector's edition and a premium edition, which is the standard one – but I think they'll be even cooler. For the collector's edition we are preparing something extremely special, which we're very excited about.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This is the first time you are working on a game across platforms at launch. Having come from a PC background, can you talk a bit about how the game will fare across platforms?
Well, The Witcher 1 was a very core PC game, and you could see the hardcore-ness in it. In The Witcher 2, we moved away from that a bit, but it still had those elements. The only issue was we didn't have the resources to do two platforms at the same time, but if you look at how we did the Xbox 360 version, it was one of the best Xbox 360 games and it was really squeezing the machine to the limit. So what we're looking to do with The Witcher 3 is to push each of the platforms to their limits. For PC, which in theory is infinitely scalable, you'll be able to get more, but you have to invest. On the consoles, the difference will not be huge because they're actually brand new PCs. So I think gamers on each platform will get an extremely good experience and they should be very satisfied with the quality.
The Witcher 3 employs a new engine – REDengine 3, and you've also announced that you'll be releasing the REDkit modding tools for The Witcher 3 much sooner after release than you did with The Witcher 2. Can you talk a bit about the scope of what's possible with these modding tools and what you're hoping to see from the community?
We don't really expect anything (from the community); we just want to make them happy. It's funny because for The Witcher 2 the REDkit was released too late to make it as big as it could have been. We were totally aware of that, but we were just not able to put the tools together sooner. And we can't just release pure development tools because people will have problems figuring it out. Right now the plan is to give people the tools early on in order for them to share their adventures with their friends.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter how many people we have and how good they are; they will never invent the stories that the gamers have invented or that they have in their heads. That's very exciting because they will be able to share their own Witcher adventures or Witcher-inspired adventures or adventures just set in the Witcher world with the rest of the gamers. That's amazing, and from our perspective, that's the goal. We really hope people will like it and that they will start using their imagination with our tools and something cool will happen.
Will there be a way for players to discover in-game the mods that other people have made?
Yes, we're looking to do that just to make things easily accessible. We have some really cool ideas. We would like to create an environment where people can access the mods very easily, and maybe rate them. This is a story-based game in an open world, but it will come to an end. So after a certain point we would really like to give it replay value with the mods. We'd love for people to discover mods that are ten-hour adventures in themselves that someone has spent months creating.
It's quite impressive what you have managed to pull off with the REDengine 3, with the massive open world, no loading screens, etc. So do you have any plans to lease out this engine to other developers?
We are definitely thinking about it, but first we have to ship a multiplatform game, and then we can talk about it. But yes, we would definitely like to help people to make RPG games. We're not paranoid and afraid of the competition – that someone will license the engine and make a better game than ours. That's great! I'd love to play that, honestly.
There are a lot of great RPG games, but the problem we faced when we started working on The Witcher 1 was that there was no technology to make an RPG game, so if you wanted to make an RPG, you were in a pretty tight spot. We were lucky enough to license technology from Bioware, but after that they didn't really go into licensing, and the engine was super-old and there is nothing much you can do on it for current standards. If you license CryEngine, Unreal or even Unity, you just get the basic stuf