Here’s our full interview conducted by GameSpot editor Danny O’Dwyer with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt lead quest designer Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz.
You can also check out the complete video series from our trip to Poland to check out the game right here. And for even more in-depth Witcher interviews:
- The Witcher 3 is an Open World With No Loading Times According to Developer — interview with senior environment artist Jonas Mattsson.
- Witcher 3 Dev Explains How to Turn a Nation of Pirates into Purchasers — interview with CD Projekt co-founder Marcin Iwinski.
- How the Witcher 3 Made Characters Look Unique Without Using Motion Capture — interview with lead character artist Pawel Mielniczuk.
In this interview we discuss why a choice that sounds good can be terrible, how leveling works in the Witcher, and why Gwent replaced Dice Poker.
GameSpot: Perhaps the biggest change that we’ve noticed between The Witcher 2 and Wild Hunt is how the quests are carried out. Obviously the main quest is still a major focus, but there seems to be so much more going on in the wider world.
How have you guys balanced the main quest with all of this extra stuff that’s going on?
As with the previous games, we are very focused on the story line. On the story of Geralt, of Ciri, and Yennefer. At start of production, that was our main focus. But as we’ve developed the game we have designed side quest lines that were connected very strongly to the main story line.
As you progress through the main story, you can continue on and ignore the story lines of local places or important characters that you meet. You choice, between ignoring those or participating in them, can cause some consequences in the world as well.
And you will have choices throughout those quests. It was also very important for us, as with the previous games, to give players a variety of choices so that you feel like you’re playing an established character with Geralt. But there’s some degree of freedom in how Geralt behaves. What choices does he make, and how does he impact this world?
We also tried to avoid the black and white division of choices, just like in the previous games. For us it’s more like you are in a tough situation and you have to manage somehow. You have to decide what Geralt would do in this situation if you were in his shoes.
Choosing the lesser of evils.
Exactly. The lesser of evils. Sometimes you will even feel that, “Okay, none of these solutions are good. What should I do?”
In one of the sidequests I played, there’s a dwarf whose forge was burnt down. I hunted this guy down, the guy who committed it, and he’s drunk. I put a spell on him and brought him back. And I thought, “Yeah, now the dwarf’s going to give him a punch or something.” But he had him hanged! I’m like “Holy shit!”
I wouldn’t have done that if I knew that would happen.
Yeah. when we design quests and story lines, we always try to keep everything in the context of the world. Basically in this situation, this dwarf was inhabiting a village that was conquered by the Nilfgaard Empire, and they believe themselves to be very just. But their laws can be perceived as cruel by some. For burning someone’s property, especially a dwarf that works for the Guardians, it’s basically perceived as sabotage. Like military sabotage.
So, if you analyze it like this, this shouldn’t be so surprising. But if you look at it from the human perspective, like you did, it might seem downright evil.
You talked about how the side quests don’t feel like side quests. For instance Keira was helping me in the underground dungeon in one of the early-on quests. Then it finished, but she’s like “Oh, can you help me with something?”
I could have just walked out, but I decided to help her. And when I helped her with this small riddle, it opened up a whole other quest.
Actually the thing you mentioned is another whole line of quests. It’s not just a single quest. It’s basically the story line of this character. Unraveling it can have consequences for the world. It can basically impact what will happen later on in the main story line. These side quests are intertwined with the main story line very strongly.
How many of those side quests are there in comparison to the ones in the main story?
I can roughly tell you the number of story lines. I think it’s about 8 or 10, and each one of those has 3 side quests. Something like that.
Aside from that we have also normal side quests, which are totally not connected to the main story line.
When you complete the main quest, can you go back to some of those longer side branches, or will not doing them hurt you a lot for the main quest? How does all that work?
Okay, so we have the main story line and very important story branches. These branches end as you progress with the main story line, but there are also side quests, big side quests, that are not dependent on the main story line at all. Once you end the game you can continue playing those.
If you do not complete these side branches it also has an impact on the main story line. That’s why you can’t go back and change them, because then you would cheat the game.
For example, you mentioned this quest with a sorceress. If you ignore this side quests line, you will learn what happened to the sorceress in the main story line later. If it already happened to her, you can’t go back and change that.
But, obviously, you can play the game again and change what would have happened if you had play differently.
Do all of them have impact on the main quest, or do some of them not really matter?
Branches connected to the main story line do have impact. Some of them have very, very big impact on the main story line and on the endings themselves.
We have three alternate endings and about 36 or more combinations of ending states for the world. The branches impact those very heavily.
Whenever you wander into a village, and there seem to be lots and lots of villages, there are these notice boards. When you read them, you find signs like, “You shouldn’t cook cats because it’s unlucky!” Then there was a little quest. There are quite a lot of these more traditional side quests.
The notice boards you mentioned, they have a lot of fluff, but they also have totally optional quests that you can do. They are not connected to the main story line, although they do impact the world and how the world perceives Geralt. For example, if you decide to take on a Witcher Contract in some village, the villagers might react differently to Geralt later on depending on what he did in this contract.
There are also some side quests that are basically stories in themselves. I think they’re interesting for the players, and they give you some fresh view on some topics of the Witcher World. It’s good that we have things that are not strongly connected to the main story line so you can have this needed breath before you go back.
It feels almost like in the books where Geralt wanders into a town and doesn’t really know what’s going to happen. You can just get lost on this little side adventure that happens, and then you can go back on your main mission.
Yeah. We also have side quests that aren’t just contracts that you take from the notice board or from a quest giver. There are also some encounters and quests that happen, basically, as you pass them. You have this feeling that things happen around Geralt while he travels through this living, breathing world.
One thing that kind of shook me a bit when I was playing Wild Hunt was after I’d picked up some contracts. I decide I’d just go crazy and disappear into the big open world. I found a town and I went to the notice board, and there was this really interesting quest about a ghost that was appearing in the forest somewhere. I went to my quest log and it said, “You want to be Level 33.” At that point I was only around level five, so it kind of felt like World of Warcraft.
Can you talk about that leveling system or the types of different difficulties. Are you expecting people to come back to old areas all the time?
Yes, that’s something we wanted to achieve and what our gameplay team wanted to achieve when they were balancing the game. We have chosen some quests from different hubs that are balanced for high levels, so you have stuff to do after you get to those high levels. We were tempted to balance it in a way that you simply go through from level to level and they are all even, but we felt that something was getting lost in between.
I know it might seem irritating, maybe, or it might feel weird when you’re at level five or six and then encounter a level 32 quest, but I think this is something that players will come back to later on in the game. If they play that long, of course. [laughs] I think this is something to do in the endgame.
It’s not an MMO obviously, but you can play after the credits. After you finish the main story line, we wanted players to have stuff to do. We didn’t want you to feel like, “Yeah, okay, I finished everything. Everything was so easy that I can one-shot everything now.”
And we don’t want you to have this feeling that you have to complete all the side content before you engage in the main story line. In some games, you feel that you some side quests that will no longer be available or that the game will end. For me, when I play some games, I wait to play the main story line. I do all the side quests that I can, then I come back and I’m like, “Okay, what was that all about?” We wanted to avoid that very strongly because the main story line is very important for us.
It’s interesting because a problem for some people with a game like Oblivion that the characters and enemies leveled with you. So it felt like you were never really successful for being strong.
Yes, we wanted to avoid this as well. For us, the perfect example of good approach to levels scaling, or lack of it so to speak, is Gothic. In Gothic you had these areas where the world was open. You could go there, but basically there were orcs, or an ogre, or stuff like that would whoop your ass.
You felt satisfaction once you leveled up. Once you got this strong character, you joined some factions, and found some better equipment, you felt satisfaction. “Hey, I can beat this orc now. I struggled two hours to even approach him before, and now I can beat him.” I think this is satisfying for the players, and I hope we did it properly.
Talk to me about Gwent. Gwent seems like somebody at CD Projekt3 went crazy and made their own version of Hearthstone but twice as big.
Gwent was present in the Witcher books, and this is something we always wanted to have in the games. But we always thought that a card game would be too complicated. We wouldn’t be able to do it. For this game a few of the developers said, “The dice game was cool. We could easily do that again.” But Poker Dice is random, at least for me. It doesn’t give you the feeling that you have any progress as you play through the game because it’s so random. Even if you have these quests with stronger opponents, you could only do so much with the AI because it’s chance-based.
But with Gwent, we felt that we could introduce something much more interesting to the players. Basically you can gather these cards in the world, you can buy them, you can win them from players. You have this constant feeling that you’re making progress. You collect these cards like in other collectible card games. You have quest links related to it. You have these huge tournaments.
I know that many players, especially fans of the previous games, are angry at us because we didn’t include Dice Poker. But Gwent was such a demanding minigame to develop that we couldn’t afford to have this and Dice Poker both in the game.
One of the things that I love in the dialogue options of the Witcher Games is the ability to intimidate somebody and use his skill in conversations or use a sign to trick them.
Is there ever a situation where you can say “Okay, look, if I beat you in Gwent you’ll have to do what I want.”
Without spoiling anything I will just say “yeah.”
Talk to us about some of the miniquests that happen in the world. When I was playing through, things started to appear on the map like question marks and points of interest. Some of those were things like beasts’ nests that you might need to destroy. What other types of things are there?
We have abundant villages that are overrun by monsters or bandits that you have to slay, and later on villagers and merchants come back to these towns. So you get new goods that you can obtain. We have hidden treasures that you have to find and that can provide you with epic loot so to speak. We have strong monsters that basically are guarding treasures. We have people, and sometimes merchants, that are imprisoned by bandits. If you free them you can get access to better items.
We have these monster nests like you said. Basically destroying monster nests yields you different kinds of rewards. Aside from experience points you also get special mutagens for Geralt and alchemy ingredients.
I think we have some others as well, like hidden contraband and stuff like that.
So one of the early missions you do is slaying a griffin, and it’s a multi-quest line where you have different elements to it that eventually culminates in this big fight. With the rest of the big monster engagements, are these things that you’ll run into in the world, or are they mostly involved in the main quest line?
Actually, we have quite a few monster hunts that you can find in the world, and the griffin hunt was part of the main story line. But a lot of them are basically side quests. Each of them has it’s own unique monster and it’s own unique story and approach to the monster. Geralt has to find a way to beat those monsters or lure them out, like with the griffin.
There are a few different ways that you can find those quests. You can find contracts on monsters on the notice boards or you can encounter those monsters as you explore the world. And you can also find places where those monsters attack and continue to hunt from those points. It’s very open.
How many of those are there in the world that you can find? And are they all different types of monsters, or are there something like several griffin ones?
I think we have two griffins, but mostly it’s different monsters. We tried to pick unique monsters that we, and you hunt for those so it doesn’t feel like a repeatable action.
Another new element in Wild Hunt is that you have a lot more options in terms of transport. Geralt’s horse, that’s named Roach. But there also boats. Do these factor into quests at all? Are there any times where you swim under water to try and find an island or get in a race while riding Roach?
I mean we try to include all different gameplay elements into each quest to keep players interested. And as we got these new transportation tools, we tried to incorporate them into the quests as well. You will have horse races. We don’t have boat races, but there are some quests that involve sailing a boat. There are quests that will make you dive under water and find stuff like hidden caves.
I remember diving under water and finding loot, so the idea of underwater caves are very interesting. I found one random cave that was full of these horrible beasts that had a pot of human bones or something. I just saw that out of the corner of my eye. It wasn’t a quest and it wasn’t a minigame; it was just a thing that was there.
We tried to do everything we could for players to feel this awesome sense of exploration. We didn’t want players to feel, “Okay, there are the quests, and you can go on the quest path. But don’t go on the sidesquests because there is nothing there.” No, we wanted to make everything feel like a living, breathing world that’s rich with things to find. Basically, someplace interesting to explore.
I felt like there were lots of different types of quests going on. What is one of your favorite quests in the game?
Okay, I have two favorites, but it’s very hard to talk about them without spoiling anything. One of them takes place in Kaer Morhen, but it’s not the prologue. It involves other Witchers. That’s the only thing I’m going to say.
The other one involves Geralt and Ciri. It’s basically their time together. That’s everything I’m going to say. I just love it.
Another element that’s new in this game is that you actually play as Ciri.
Yes. Ciri is mostly involved in the main story. The sections that you play Ciri are basically closed off. You can’t explore the open world as Ciri. You didn’t see all her abilities yet, but she develops as you play the game. She gets stronger later on in the game.
One of the elements that’s very interesting about the prologue part is that, for anyone who hasn’t played Witcher 2, there’s basically a part where you have a discussion that fills in what happened to you in The Witcher 2. It’s very clever.
Yeah, we introduced this because we believe that people who played the previous games, on Xbox for example, should also have an option to somehow fill in these choices. If you’re not interested in what happened in the previous games, if you’re new to the series and it would be overwhelming, you can just choose not to have these choices once you start the game.
Aside from that we also have the normal “import your saved game” option for PC. If you kept your save game from the Witcher 2, you can import it into your game on the PC. Then you don’t have those choices because, basically, we took the choices from your saved game.
We learned that Geralt’s beard was growing as we played the game as well. Is there anything else that happens throughout the game?
With his beard? [laughs]
Not specifically with his beard, but is there anything else that’s persistent throughout the world?
No, I think the beard is actually the only thing we took that far.
It’s good hair technology, so why not expand it to as many places as possible.
We added the option to change the hairstyles for Geralt, but it would prove difficult, technically, to make all hair grow back. So, we only did it with the beard.