GDC 2012: ‘The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings’ And Knowing Your Game

Before he was Head of Marketing for The Witcher and The Witcher 2 developer CD Projeckt Red, Michal Platkow-Gilewski was a fan of the the dark fantasy novels on which they were based back in his native Poland. So were many of the designers and programmers at his studio, he explained, saying many of them grew up reading Andrzej Sapkowski’s dark fantasy novels about Geralt of Rivia, the titular “Witcher” or specially-bred monster hunter who was front and center for the CD Projekt’s two award-winning games based on the books.

With The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings making its console debut exclusively on the 360 this spring in both regular and Enhanced editions, I spoke with Platkow-Gilewski at GDC about the release as well as getting the word out about your game, even if you’re not a major studio.

We kicked things off by seeing a new opening cinematic for the game, crafted by BAFTA Award winner Tomasz Baginski, which sets the stage for the story of The Witcher 2 and also backs CD Projekt’s claims that the 360 release will be getting a few more bells and whistles. Including all of the DLC from the PC release, it’s also getting an Arena Mode outside of the main game where players will fight off waves of enemies and familiarize themselves with The Witcher 2’s third-person melee and magic-based combat system, approximately another four hours of gameplay through two new quests, an updated camera system, and revamped controls.

On the standard Enhanced Edition side, the two-DVD game will also include a soundtrack CD, a world map, a quest handbook, and game manual. Or, if you want more stuff, there’s the Dark Edition, you get all of the content from the Enhanced Edition plus a Witcher medallion like the one Geralt wears in-game, a revised version of the original art book including information about the new CG intro, and stickers.

While the other journalists sat down to mess around with the 360 version of The Witcher 2 controls, and grabbed some time with Platkow-Gilewski to talk about bringing the game to PCs and consoles and why it was so important for his team to really know their game and be its biggest cheerleader over the years.

He explained that back in Poland, the original novels have the stature of The Lord of the Rings, epic fantasies that grabbed Platkow-Gilewski when he was a teen and didn’t let go over the years (the first two novels are available here in the U.S. with a third on the way in September). For Platkow-Gilewski, when it came time to make a Witcher game, the challenge was communicating the lore of the novels—the CD Projekt team wanted to make sure that their games kept all of the sex, violence, and political machinations of the source material while maintaining the moral ambiguity of Sapowski’s work. The one word Platkow-Gilewski kept coming back to was “plausibility,” hammering home his team’s need to make all of the mature elements of the game feel natural, even if the stories weren’t direct lifts of the novels’ content.

The current game sees Geralt investigating a series of royal assassinations, placing the Witcher between dual factions that threaten to unravel the kingdom. To tell the game’s story, CD Projekt had three major goals: to make it mature, to keep it as non-linear as possible, and to show how small decisions in the game could lead to major events later in the story. We saw one of these as Geralt joins King Foltest in laying siege to a seceding prince’s castle. Using the game’s choice-driven dialog system, Geralt can choose to negotiate for peace with the prince, or fight him, both decisions bearing repercussions for the story down the line. Platkow-Gilewski elaborates that it’s all part of the company’s mission statement to excel at making RPGs, particularly ones driven by story.

I asked him about the additional content of the game, of which he says players will see about a third through the first 30-40 hour playthrough (with about 90% the second time around). Platkow-Gilewski conceded that it was a challenge having a bunch of additional content, but insisted that the branching plot needed to be two stories, and Platkow-Gilewski was fairly animated here as earlier when explaining the draw of the story for himself, the rest of the team, and, hopefully, the audience.

This all came back around to the title of this post, “Knowing Your Game,” as Platkow-Gilewski encouraged new and up and coming developers to evangelize their games as much as possible, but most importantly to be as independent as possible and to know what your game is and to love it. The Witcher 2 is being published in the U.S. by WB Interactive (and Namco in the E.U.), but the CD Projekt team is rarely away from the game’s side. He says that his team knows the game’s story and gameplay inside and out and while they’re happy to work with local marketing and PR, The Witcher is their baby and it’s their message.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is out now for the PC and will be available on the 360 April 17th.

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