Who’s ready for more PAX article fun? Well too bad if you didn’t enthusiastically scream at your computer, because that’s what you’re getting.
Have you ever wondered how RPG devs build quests? If you have then it’s your lucky day as we heard Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz from CD Projekt Red talk about designing quests for The Witcher 3: Wild hunt. To get the crowd pumped for the hour long talk, Mateusz started off with the game’s launch video. I definitely recommend you watch it before reading the rest of this article, it feels so damn emotional, especially after having played through the game.
According to Mateusz quest design is not as simple as it sounds and entails a lot of steps. The whole team at CD Projekt Red have to come together to make an idea for a quest transition through to a completed product.
Pitching a quest idea
Mateusz explained that each pitch is only about two to three sentences long and allows the team at CD Projekt Red to understand what may be needed for implementing the quest. Mateusz mentioned two successful pitches which are pictured above. In case you can’t make them out, they read: “A tower appeared out of nowhere. Geralt must find out why it happened and get rid of it” and “A fake witcher is giving witchers a bad name – Geralt can find out who he is and deal with him.” Now that’s some concise writing! You know what it is, what will happen and in the case of the fake witcher pitch, you know a decision will have to be made.
The pitches are selected based on potential, Mateusz explained. One of the first steps after a successful pitch has been selected is to list the choices the player will have to make during the quest and whether cutscenes will be needed. If it is deemed doable they then will start working on all the elements that will be needed.
Each department will ultimately need to produce something from the pitch and on premise alone it could be straight up rejected as the assets needed simply won’t come together. For example, something that may involve actions not typically found in the game may be too much for the engine. Sometimes a promising quest may be scrapped late on in production, in which case the team will try and recycle the assets that went into making that quest, such as NPCs and locations.
It’s not pretty making a quest demo
Putting together a demo based off of a pitch generally is a buggy process. The game isn’t complete yet and the team will have to work with what they have, and in some cases making minor changes to get a quest working will result in bugs and glitches.
Working through this stage will let the devs know just what is working and what isn’t. They’ll find out whether NPCs can spawn in for the quest and whether event triggers will work around what they already have. Setting space for combat is another aspect that plays heavily into this stage, there will need to be room for Geralt to swing his sword and roll around, or if it’s me playing, just spam Quen and cry.
If things aren’t coming together during these demos the team are happy to scrap the quest as “it’s not too expensive to change at this stage and go back to paper,” Mateusz said.
If the quest is approved they will then move on to a beta where it’s added into the game, but they can still be scrapped at this point. The team will determine whether the quest fits in with others and doesn’t create plot holes. One example of this that Mateusz mentioned was characters referencing dead NPCs as though they are still alive or revealing events that haven’t yet happened.
One of the last things they will do is make sure the dialogue is all correct, as the voice actors are one of the most expensive aspects in development. If recorded dialogue is incorrect they will sometimes have to glue sentences together to make it work rather than pay for a rerecording.
Once the quest is then complete the team have to be careful not to break stuff in it. Mateusz mentioned one of the team tried to fix an inventory issue, which then made Geralt completely invisible in a certain quest, meaning a whole load of more work.
Which quests were hard?
Mateusz mentioned quests which made it into the game but were difficult to create. Minor SPOILERS below for those who haven’t finished the game.
People who have played The Witcher 3 will remember the Bloody Baron quest, if not for its amazing story telling then for the fact it pitted you against a deformed monster fetus. Mateusz said this quest was particularly troubling as depending on the player’s choice it would have the Baron carry the botchling, which is the only instance in the game where one character carries another. To realise this they had to tweak the engine to allow the action to take place, something which was by no means easy. In general Mateusz said The Bloody Baron quest was filled with bugs in early development, which isn’t surprising considering how intricate it was as quests overlapped into a large web with plenty of side quests and subplots.
The other quest that Mateusz said was particularly troubling was The Battle of Kaer Morhen. As the event involved so many character engaging in a fight the team thought it wouldn’t be doable and an alternate ending would need to be created. They persevered with it, which Mateusz said strained the engine, but ultimately paid off.
Making a game everybody loves
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been critically acclaimed and CD Projekt Red have been praised for including constant patches and an extensive DLC which doesn’t feel like an after thought.
During the Q&A after the talk Mateusz described how they ended up making The Witcher 3 into a game players would like. One aspect he mentioned that was important to them was scrapping quests that would have players grind, such as having to collect 10 bear skins to progress. Which is great and all, but they do still make you look for some old bag’s frying pan!
CD Projekt Red were constantly looking to see if quests were fun and make sure each contributed something memorable, whether it is something funny, a cool action sequence or a troubling moral decision. This is something that Mateusz feels they managed to accomplish in most of the Witcher’s quests.