The Witcher 2 Environments Developer Diary Interview

February 25, 2011

By Jimmy Thang

We recently had the opportunity to interview CD Projekt RED's Tomasz Gop. The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings senior producer was able to answer our questions regarding the latest developer diary on their highly-anticipated fantasy RPG. Being a video about the game's world and environments, in this exclusive interview, Gop touches upon whether or not stealth gameplay will be a big component of the game, drawing inspiration from real-world locales to create cohesive virtual landscapes, and the necessity to create a new tailor-made game engine that would raise the visual benchmark for RPGs. Eagerly anticipated by both fans of the original and of the role-playing genre in general, The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings attempts to improve upon the original, highly-rated game in all respects, and even includes NVIDIA 3D Vision support.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings is a sequel to 2007’s well-received action role-playing game, The Witcher. Played in real-time, CD Projekt RED’s RPGs are based on the works of esteemed Polish novelist Andrezej Sapkowski, and see gamers controlling Geralt of Rivia, one of the few remaining Witchers. Genetically modified and thought of as outcasts, Witchers use their supernatural abilities to defeat monsters and other enemies who would otherwise wreak havoc upon the world were they not kept in check by Geralt and his kind. Despite the fantastical premise, the Witcher novels and games tackle mature subjects such as discrimination, oppression and genocide, though often also include a touch of humour and romance. Visually, how would you describe the world of The Witcher 2?

Tomasz Gop: Detailed. We do have nice lighting, post-process or visual effects, but what I think is most precious about locations in The Witcher 2, is when after closer inspection players do actually find deeper levels of detail – smaller pieces that keep the level of quality. We don’t like cutting corners.

Witcher 2 In terms of linearity, how big or open is the world of The Witcher 2?

Tomasz Gop: Not all locations of The Witcher 2 can be found within one playthrough. Depending on players’ choices, some places look totally different – and those are totally different places. It’s just not a linear world really... Apart from that, you actually start a game with lots of areas open. That means that some opponents are just too tough for you at the beginning of each chapter. But then again… isn’t that what RPGs should be about? A common criticism with large open-world RPGs is that their environments look repetitive. How important is creating varied landscapes to CD Projekt? And how successful do you think The Witcher 2 will be at delivering a visually-diverse experience?

Tomasz Gop: I’m not saying we’ve never re-used any graphical asset on a location, I just think there are lots of ways how you can be clever about that. If you create a piece of wall – make sure it has two sides, make sure it makes sense upside-down as well. That’s only for start – you can tweak textures and/or normal maps and almost get a new diverse asset. At the end, each place of location has its own lighting so… recycling isn’t all that bad. It’s just about how you do it. And yes, it can be overdone – obviously. For those unfamiliar with the Andrzej Sapkowski books on which the games are based, does the established fiction already provide a detailed enough blueprint for the lay of the land, or was much more research and creativity required?

Tomasz Gop: Not too often, I should say. Sapkowski not always felt like doing those long elaborate descriptions of each detail in each place. Who knows… maybe he hoped that some day someone would sit down and actually try to do that work for him! The Dwarven castles showcased in the developer diary look quite familiar to the Dwarven castles in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. Was the look of the game at all influenced by these films or Tolkien's legendary mythology? On the same vein, is the game's world influenced by any other works of fiction or perhaps real-life locales/architectural movements?

Tomasz Gop: I’d say we base more on the real life. Then, of course, on the other hand – dwarves don’t exist in real life. If you’ve ever seen those tons of reference books and albums lying around our level artists’ desks… there’s just always so much we base our work on. Maybe I’ve even seen LOTR’s album somewhere around – though I wouldn’t say it was lying on top of the pile. This developer diary talks about how the location of monster nests will make sense within the context of the game. Could you elaborate on that more?

Tomasz Gop: Obviously there are things that you just have to make up. Name of the monster, some of its graphical attributes, its history, etc... Then, you come up with the stage where you go like ‘ok, but if it actually WAS real, what habits would it have’? It’s usually the moment when you come up with ideas for how to locate their nests so that they can surprise the player. They bite? Ok, thus long teeth. They tear? Ok, sharp claws… It all has to flow – and with everybody’s help (like, when gameplay designers consult with 3D artists for example), it does. Players will definitely notice. How much care and attention is CD Projekt pouring in to making the world cohesive and believable? Do you believe gamers take these design elements a bit for granted in this day and age?

Tomasz Gop: As a developer, you always have to remember that there will be players who won’t even notice your consistency efforts. But on the other hand, those that will, when they exclaim about it (be it forums or media reviews) – it’s priceless. In an early part of the game, there's a segment where main protagonist Geralt has to stealthily sneak through the shadows as he escapes a prison. Is stealth going to be a big component of The Witcher 2's world?

Tomasz Gop: No. New one, yes. Cool feature – sure. But it’s not going to play a major role, or dim the story itself – that would be a disaster for us. Whereas the previous The Witcher game used BioWare's Aurora engine, you guys have decided to go with a new proprietary engine called the RED Engine for The Witcher 2. Can you talk about this engine in more detail? Specifically, what improvements might we see from it and what does it enable CD Projekt to do that it perhaps could not do with Aurora?

Tomasz Gop: Biggest reason behind it were obviously the tools. We’ve got dozens of visual editors, scripting tools and debuggers for things that any decent RPG must have. But those are hidden from the player, so I don’t think it’s gonna be anywhere soon when we actually show these tools to public. I mean – tools at work and not the result. But then, there are also graphics. These can be seen right away with no explanations or disclaimers.

When we started work on the engine, especially its presentational side, we knew that in order to top the graphics of The Witcher, we needed efficient tools. So, for example, location editor has lots of keyboard shortcuts, most of the elements (toolbars, viewport) can be docked, moved around, split to multiple screens… There are no shortcuts in this area, so with the same amount of time our artists were able to create locations that look better – even better than all competition.

Our thanks go out to Tomasz for taking time from his busy development schedule to answer our questions; for an interview pertaining to the characters of The Witcher 2 please click here.