I decided to translate it in full,
EDIT: Part 2 added
Sorry for any typos and other assorted errors.
Masa Kultury: Hey, welcome to Masa Kultury. Our guest today is Adam Badowski, who's been working in the computer game industry for about 10 years now. He started out as an animator, he worked as Art Director and Project Lead on The Witcher 2, and is currently he's Managing Director and Board member at CD Projekt RED. So, a man who's helped make TW2, now working on The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077, and I think we'll talk about these games today.
Adam Badowski: Sure, I'll be very happy to do so, the games are most important.
MK: First of all, what secrets can you reveal to us, if you can?
AB: Secrets you say... Well, I can elaborate on things that have already been made public. Maybe we forgot to mention something, so ask away
MK: Oh we will, I can assure you. Let's start with a bang: Cyberpunk 2077, The Witcher 3, a lot happening over at your studio. What's the deal, if you're a studio that makes cRPG games now, is it something of a requirement to have both a fantasy game and a sci-fi game in your portfolio?
AB: No, I think it's a bit like fire and water, when you've been working on fire long enough, you start to thirst for some water, those elements complement each other. People working on a game, they're a team, a creative collective, they unleash their creativity in these ideas and projects. And there comes a time of oversaturation, and you need to change things up a bit, start working on something else. We've been working a long time on The Witcher games now, since 2002, 2001 in my case I think. And it's a great experience - we've always planned The Witcher as a trilogy - but it's a long time, and we decided we need to freshen ourselves up as a studio and try something that we also always found interesting, especially now that cyberpunk is a bit of a dead genre because some of its ideas are a bit old hat. Corporate warfare, wars over energy sources, these are things of the present, not the future any more. So, we want to tackle that, because we think there hasn't been much interesting stuff said in the cyberpunk genre in games. I mean, there are some neat games, but not that many. I think our teaser trailer - it has over 8 million views now - shows that people need this sort of experience they got with Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell... There's some standard, familiar, old hat cyberpunk stuff in there, but on the other hand people still want to play a new cyberpunk game, and we want to mix these two things a bit... I hope I was clear...
MK: Say, Adam, since you're saying that you're inspired by classics like Blade Runner and all that but the genre still has a lot room to explore, tell me how seriously do you aim to treat this theme? The Witcher, especially the first one, was one of the few RPGs to treat its themes seriously, and not view the player as some horny teenager. Cyberpunk seems to lend itself even better for this sort of deeper treatment, right?
AB: Yeah, we think there are not enough mature games, because maturity is often measured simply by the PEGI and ESRB ratings, which are just checkboxes - you know, blood or no blood, violence or no violence and you get a rating, and you're mature or not. And that's not what it's about, it's about the message, the story you're telling. We want to tell controversial stories, directed at adults. Sapkowski did a neat thing, he used this postmodern approach to fantasy, deconstructing all these tales we know, which led to all these interesting and unique stories commented upon by our favourite cynical hero, Geralt. And that was smart and interesting for a well-versed audience, and Cyberpunk has even more elements you can exploit in this way. This is the direction we want to go into, and we think that there should be games for adults, but not for adults because of sex and violence, but because of their good, interesting stories, like movies. Games are entertainment, just like cinema, there's room for this sort of growth. I thik Rockstar do a good job at this, I'm a fan of Red Dead Redemption, I think when you look at the story of RDR, it's that kind of story, a mature story with an antihero who's going through some gritty stuff that's more like from a Sergio Leone film than your typical computer game.
MK: Right, those Sergio Leone films, I already talked with you about them once, and they were obviously one of your studio's greatest inspirations for The Witcher 2. There are a few scenes in there that are very, very much inspired by them, take the ending of TW2 for instance... So is this sort of western atmosphere still there in The Witcher 3?
AB: I think there will be even more of that, we have this really good plan... Let me put it this way: we have a lot of goals we want to achieve in The Witcher 3. First, it's the conclusion to the saga, the last game, so we want to tackle all these story threads. Second, we want to show Geralt as a witcher again, a type of character that's somewhat western-ish, a guy who exists somewhere on the edges of society, either accepted or not, like a gunslinger, and he's cynical... I mean he sees the world from a bit of a different perspective - and these are the western elements. We want to tell the story of Geralt as a witcher, a monster slayer, a mutant, the character that Sapkowski's short stories did a fantastic job of presenting. I want to spend some time time to get closer to this character - of course, there will be these epic events, but we want to have this gentle learning curve, or story curve. We'll try to characterize him once more. So, returning to the question: yeah, Geralt IS a bit of a western-like character. That moment when he enters the square in Blaviken and fights Renfri and her band... that's a pure western scene.
MK: You mentioned the game's supposed to be serious, western-like, that you're aiming for some epic events - which is somewhat obvious. Here's a question related to the first screenshots I've seen - they immediately drew a lot of comparisons to Skyrim on the net. Will there really be any sort of similarity here beyond the open world? Are you aiming for that sort of size and scale?'
AB: There are comparisons to Skyrim and we refer to Skyrim ourselves, firstly because we like Bethesda's games, and secondly because we want to create a world a bit bigger than the one in Skyrim, but we're making a completely different game. We're making a game which is a continuation of The Witcher 1 and 2, and The Witcher 3 will certainly not be some sort of deviation from our key elements, so a non-linear, intelligent story, the choice and consequence system of events provoked by us where we don't know the consequences in advance, a world that's not black and white but full of shades, all these elements are the most important ones in our open world. In the case of The Witcher 3, the open world adds another layer of realism to the story. We always wanted to make a game built like this, even with The Witcher 1, but TW1 was made on the Aurora engine that had its technical limitations, It's great that Bioware gave us the license, but it was limited. For The Witcher 2 we decided to develop our own technology, RED Engine. That was the first iteration, so we had to focus on the key elements, the tools for creating games like this. And now, we can finally allow ourselves to make this sort of game since our tech has matured enough to support an open world. It's built on a new streaming engine and other solutions which allowed us to completely get rid of loading screens between areas. So we can allow ourselves to do it, and we do. An open world is a more dynamic world, more active. We could visit... I'm not saying we will visit Flotsam, but if we were playing the third act of TW2 and we could visit Flotsam to see what consequences our choices had for this town before the summary at the end of the game... So that's the main difference, we want to provide more feedback on what happened by allowing you to visit places that you influenced in some way throughout the story. We don't want to go in the direction of Borderlands or some sort of sandbox environment, we're interested in story uber alles and we're simply going to implement that story in an open world. I think this is the first time an open world has a story as serious as this.
MK: So here's where the problem arises - when I think open world and serious story, Red Read Redemption is the only real comparison, which is somewhat far from being an RPG... It really seems easier to put a serious, closed story in a closed world, to drag the player a bit in the right direction., and even though I'm greatly excited by your declarations of no loading screens - I still remember the various interiors in TW1 and how long it took to load them, back in Aurora times - but the story itself, you know, how do you solve that? How do you keep the pace up, how do you keep the player interested in the main quest, how do you keep them from forgetting their purpose and just doing the equivalent of delivering pizza in GTA?
AB: No, no, of course, when you look at The Witcher 2, it doesn't matter much whether you're keeping the pacing in a smaller or larger world, you just have to put some work into it regardless of the scale of the world. We have to know what we want to do, what we're supposed to do, our goals for the current quest, and honestly, our postmortems after TW2 gave us a lot of food for thought and we built these sort of moments that will be interesting for the player. The most important thing in a game for me - and I'm a game addict myself - is that the game provides me with a feeling that there's something interesting behind every corner, that I haven't experienced everything yet. Schematic quests quickly get boring. Let's say we know what the construction of a particular type quest is, it's always the same and the only thing that changes are te actors - we don't want to do that. Our games have always been handcrafted, all the quests were, and we want to keep it that way, and I think that's what will keep the player on the story track, they'll simply be interested in what happens next. And that's our goal. We have developed some tricks in The Witcher 1 and 2, but it's more of a question of various storyline iterations and no schematics are going to help here, you just have to have good writers and very good people who implement their ideas in the game. It's great when there's a tangible feel that everything's a bit unique, that every quest has its own soul and isn't just a copy based on a schematic.
MK: If I understand correcly, you're not going for the classic sandbox where you have to find five hundred collectibles and a thousand activities?
AB: Nope. Well, of course there will be *some* stuff like that, but completely separate from the main quest. Players need to have fun from quests, not, say, donkey racing or something like that. All the gamey things, they usually act as a sort of corporate-requested filler in games, because you need to write that there will be 20+ hours of gameplay based on a particular mechanic, when really it doesn't bring anything to the table. I'm not saying minigames are bad, because sometimes they're really fun, but even Red Dead Redemption had a lot of stuff I didn't like...
MK: You didn't pick flowers? (laughs)
AB: I didn't pick flowers. Well, for a while I did, but then I realised there's no sense in doing it and I lost interest, I was more interested in what my character should be interested in - having a good gun, good clothes for windy weather and and completing quests.
MK: Sooo... Will Geralt no longer pick herbs?
AB: Geralt will pick herbs because alchemy is based on that, all those elixirs that are deadly for regular people but help give Geralt an edge in combat. So, the goal here is building character, not providing additional gameplay hours, that's a different thing altogether.
MK: Say, Adam, I have a question, maybe a naive, maybe unnecessary, but I told my wife that your game is going to have an open world, and the first thing she asked was not about the quests or the story, not about these sorts of things it was just "can Geralt jump this time?" To move about more freely?
AB: Yeah, this is one of the first fun things we did, even before the renderer which we still have to work on. We made a big technological leap here. The previous game had an exploration system based on contextual animations. Now, we have built upon this system, it's more like Uncharted, so there's more contextual, nice looking animations for climbing, jumping from places or over obstacles and so on, but that's just one part of the system, because now we have a new physics engine. We've implemented PhysX, which gives makes full exploration possible. You can go everywhere you should be able to go, as long as the terrain is not too steep. There are no invisible walls, so you can even jump off a bridge and kill yourself. So yes, Geralt can jump normally now, there's no hidden barriers to hinder you. These two systems complement each other, one looks nice, the other just works, based on physics, so that's all great.
MK: When you mentioned jumping off a bridge, I immediately thought of of Adrian Chmielarz's quote that players are the ultimate trolls who always try to break your game. Isn't that even more of a challenge for you in an open world? You have to predict all those player behaviours...
AB: Sure, sure. but we have a very large team, a very specifically organized studio, we've moved past the standard hired QA which doesn't pay attention to these particular things and just tries to find errors that all players would find within the first gameplay hours. So what about errors that become apparent after 10 hours, or 100 hours? Our QA team is rather large, they're specialists, I wouldn't even call them testers, they're highly specialized, some in tools, others in gameplay, others still in story, and they're playing the game non-stop. They're assigned to The Witcher, and looking at their work hours spent on the game, they're like a kind of superpower. We don't want to start testing only at some late stage of production, the game's being tested all the time, every team has its own QA specialists assigned to it who accompany the content creators while making the game. And it's the same with the story and other things, so that will allow us to avoid surprises. Of course, we'll be expanding the QA team with beta-testers in the future, but it's not a good strategy to postpone tests until ate in production. As it is, we still have a lot of time, and the game's already being tested.
MK: So during this early stage, when the tests are still somewhat preliminary, did you happen across any such surprises already?
AB: Well, game development is always one big surprise after another, there are thousands upon thousands upon millions of tasks to accomplish, and we always assume that today everything will go great, but it never does. There's always some thing new that pops up, day after day, until it's time to wrap everything up, pack it onto a box and gave fun *laughs*. It's really a bit like that, every day new solutions lead to new problems, the game is really vast, the team is really big and the tempo of production is very fast. It's less like making a movie and more like making all the seasons of a TV series at once. I can't think of any particular funny thing that surprised us, I think I'm too much into the whole thing for it to find it funny *laughs*.
MK: You mentioned having a big team - how many people are working on The Witcher 3? I guess we'll talk more about it later, but I suspect work at the studio is organised in such a way that you can take a breather and work on Cyberpunk for a bit when you're too tired of fantasy... but what size is the core team, how many people are working on TW3 right now?
AB: The Witcher 3 team itself is about 89 people, but there's also the engine team of course which is already over 20 people, then there's QA and so forth, and naturally some people work on both projects... But the core of the Witcher 3 team is about 89 people.
MK: And how does the Cyberpunk team compare to that? I'm wondering which of these games is currently the more important one - I understand that the hype for The Witcher 3 is greater than for Cyberpunk right now, but it's also a gigantic world...
AB: It depends on what you mean by important. The Witcher 3 is at a different stage of production than Cyberpunk - Cyber punk is about establishing a new brand... that kind of sounds bad, but it's about making sure the game is unique, that it carries new ideas that will really grip the audience, so we need to do a lot of experiments and prototypes. The Witcher 3 is a lot more advanced as a project, so in that sense it's more important, since it's coming out earlier. It's also the continuation of the saga, so that's the difference. Both projects are equally important really, they're the two hearts of the studio, we have two hearts. But their dynamics are different, working on them looks differently. One already has a lot of content ready, the other is more about new types of gameplay, new story threads, establishing the whole universe, the design bible...all fascinating stuff. I'm not saying production itself is not fascinating, but the dynamics are different.
MK: I understand. Tell me, since we're talking about technical aspects of production, how does your experience with consoles look like? I know you've had something of a rough ride there in the past, but recently you performed really great with The Witcher 2, so what does that mean for The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk? Also, while you did perform great, it was only for one console - one of my friend's still sobbing quietly since he only has a PS3 and he forgot how to play on a PC, and he's still sad about the announced Witcher for Playstation, which never happened...
AB: You have to look before you leap. We wanted to make the game for all platforms, but, not to badmouth the PS3, or maybe badmouth our abilities, whatever... We were convinced the PS3 would be a big challenge for us in the case of The Witcher 2. Of course The Witcher 1 is a whole different story, that was a natively PC engine, so that was out of the question, that's one of the reasons we invested in our own technology, and it was a good choice. In the case of The Witcher 2, we learned a lot, because we had a full development phase for consoles, the studio changed a lot during that time regarding our internal procedures, we now have good knowledge from our cooperation with Microsoft and the publisher. So, now is the time to start on the next platform, Sony already announced us as one of the studios developing for their next console...
MK: There was a bit of a hiccup there, wasn't there? Some studios disappeared from that list, some others appeared... But you're officially confirmed, right?
AB: The list had some studios on it that were, let's say, unconfirmed, I don't know what it looked like behind the scenes... We are one of the first european studios to gain access to the new technology, and we're very happy about this, especially considering we haven't worked with Sony before.... Well, we've worked on Rise of the White Wolf but that was a long time ago. So, it's very nice to have such good relations with Sony right now.
MK: The PS4 seems a bit like a PC, so it will probably be easier to work with, right?
AB: It's a bit of a war of ambitions. Our greatest ambition is to making games, making content. I mean, it's nice to be a studio with a strong technology, but you have to remember how important the tools are. You have to do everything at once, you need to develop the tools for your technology, you have to develop the engine for your technology, you have to improve the visuals and you have to create the content, which is the most impoortant, since ultimately it's the game that matters. We're not Ubisoft and we'll never be, we want to be a studio that will never be larger than 200 people. We've all been through a lot here, we don't want to be a bloated corporation, we want to avoid the corporate model at all cost, so we'll never be able to afford making an engine first, finalizing it and only then starting to work on the game. That's fine in theory, but in reality, while staying independent -because we want to keep our independence- you have to make a profit, you have to make stuff that's good. Our aim is to make 90+ rated games, whether it's Metacritic or any other system - I don't want to discuss Metacritic here. This means at some point you have to choose - do you want to develop for the PS3, or do you want to put your strength into developing the next Witcher. There are always these choices.It would be great if we could always do everything at once and do it good, but as I said - big corporations can afford that, EA, Ubisoft, who sometimes have real slaughers behind the scenes, closing studios so they can finish other project instead, stuff like that. We're different, we want to be a small or medium sized, independent studio, independent creatively, independent financially, so we need to manage our studio wisely. We won't be able to achieve everything, so we have to focus on what's most important. For me, that's content, that's games.
MK: Everyone joked that the PS3's potential was hidden so deep you had to mine for it. I hope that since youre among the first studios confirmed fort the PS4, it won't be such a problem this time. I'd like to return to The Witcher now - developers often say that making games is largely a process of elimination. At first, there's a lot of ideas, but then... You're in an interesting position right now since you're making a continuation of your game, did you manage to implement some ideas in The Witcher 3 that you thought up for The Witcher 2 but had to scrap them for some reason?
AB: Yeah, there's a lot of such ideas, not just mine. This is our common idea - we wanted to stress the witcher as a monster hunter in TW2, we wanted every monster to have this unique ecology around it, its habitat, and we'd have to follow it, learn about it and only then we'd be able to handle it. Part of that was implemented, but we want to expand on that in a big way in The Witcher 3, and it looks like we'll be able to do that. I won't lie, I'm more a fan of the Witcher short stories than the novels. Of course, the novels provide us with this great historical background of the Northern Kingdoms and all that, but that feeling of the uniqueness of the protagonist, the white-haired witcher, was forged in the short stories, and that's the feeling we wanted to have in the game. But, of course, it's set in the huge world, we'll get to visit all these cool places like Novigrad, the biggest city - and we don't want to simplify anything here, a city is a city. As I was saying, Geralt will be characterized even better than previously. What else... Oh, right, we have a horse. We always wanted to have Roach in the game, but we never did. And no we do.
MK: Do you have Ciri in the game as well, finally?
AB: We get that question often especially from polish press...
MK: Dang, I thought I'd catch you off guard... (laughs)
AB: I'll leave it to your interpretation, you can look at the Game Informer cover and ask yourself who that character might be. I don't know, Yennefer, Ciri, or someone else... Triss for instance.
MK: We'll get to see some old friends whom we haven't seen in the games so far, won't we?
AB: I'd think so, yes.
MK: Adam, since you're talking about the characters, the story, the books and short stories, tell me how does Sapkowski's writing influence you - especially since Sapkowski himself rather decidedly distances himself from the games. Does it help or hinder you that the author gives you free reign and you can, well, doo anything you want?
AB: Is it a problem... well, both yes and no. It's a pity that he doesn't like games, in a way mr Sapkowski is from a completely different world. But that's understandable. Mr Andrzej Sapkowski is a brilliant writer, the creator of the whole setting. That he doesn't play games, that they're not his type of entertainment... we can't do anything about that, sadly. If he played games, if he was a gamer, he'd probably have some great ideas that could help us. On the other hand, we have creative independence, which we value highly. We could create our continuation of his story. Of course, the whole story arc was initially approved by mr Andrzej Sapkowski for The Witcher 1, so we did cooperate on that somewhat, and now we maintain a great relationship. You're probably referring to mr Sapkowski's quotes about his upcoming book, but... that's life. If mr Andrzej Sapkowski wants to continue the story he concluded in the saga, we'll try to do everything for that to be in the game, to be consistent with our own lore, but I can't imagine the creator now following the thousands of threads and dialogues in the game to accomodate them in his book. That would have to mean writing a tie-in to the game, and we all know the quality of most game tie-in novels...
MK: Better not to mention them at all.
AB: Exactly. So it's rather that we're waiting for more input and inspiration from mr Andrzej Sapkowski, we're not expecting any problems.
MK: You know, I'm only asking (referring to last question in part 1, about Andrzej Sapkowski - Kodaemon) because I wonder what approach do you prefer as developers, since as far as I know, Mike Pondsmith is working more closely with you on Cyberpunk 2077, right?
AB: Yes, Mike Pondsmith is working more closely with us, but he's the guy who created the p&p system, that's over 40 sourcebooks - not all of them are from Talsorian, of course, but most of them are. That's Cyberpunk 2020, also Cyberpunk 3.0 which didn't realy stick... Anyway, Mike Pondsmith created the game mechanics, so not only the story, the other way around even he mostly did the mechanics for the game, and addons for that mechanic. Mike Pondsmith also worked at Microsoft, making games, so he knows what it's all about. This is why it was natural to enter a dialogue, since we're speaking the same language, the language of game developers, and we decided to use that. Of course, we have creative freedom just like with The Witcher, but Mike Pondsmith is sort of an advisor to us, who solved a lot of things in the game mechanics himself, since they're based on the mechanics of the pen & paper game. And that's great, because we have a largely unified, coherent RPG system thanks to that. There were some things that were questionable in terms of balance in the game, so we fixed that, and some things were not possible to carry over without breaking the player's experience, for example shooting has to be based on the player's skill somewhat, not just the character's, so we had to rework that, and of course Mike Pondsmith was indispensable. So, that's why the cooperation looks different here. Andrzej Sapkowski is the creator of the Witcher universe, a writer, so that's the level we could work with him on, but not on the gameplay and implementation level.
MK: You mentioned player skill in the context of Cyberpunk, that's interesting since it's different from The Witcher, where stats are quite important. Skill too, of course, but...
AB: It's the same in The Witcher and Cyberpunk, it's just that mechanics of shooting are different than mechanics of swordfighting. We chose a system for The Witcher where the game helps the player choose a good sequence, that is, it has to look good since Geralt is a master swordsman who does all these pirouettes and cat-like moves, so the game helps at that. Of course, it's all based on RPG stats, but when it comes to shooting, it's bad when you're aiming at the gead, and it's an obvious headshot from 1 meter away, but the game says "nope, the stats say something else". These are the problems that you have to find good solutions for, to eat the cookie and have the cookie, and that's what we've been working on with Mike Pondsmith.
MK: Since we're talking about Mike Pondsmith, I really, really wanted to ask you... Since you're working together, maybe you could get him to record some lines for the game, because, you know, that little introduction movie where he talks about Cyberpunk... Damn his voice is amazing
AB: Yeah, Barry White, right? Of course we're going to do that. (laughs)
MK: That's great! (laughs)
AB: Guy should be singing blues songs.
MK: About Cyberpunk, maybe you could reveal what your idea for the game is. I mean of course it's going to be a story-based game, with a lot of moral choices, we can be sure of that. But I'm wondering about the hero, do you like the idea of a precisely characterised protagonist like Geralt or would you like to try something else, have more freedom in character creation, which is really the basis of most RPG systems, including Cyberpunk.
AB: Right. Of course, we will have character creation allowing both for female as well as male characters. In Mike Pondsmiths game, the character's backstory was really important - there were all these statistics, but that's where you started with, the backstory. Let's say you had two brothers, and one of these brothers could be used by the GM at some point in the game to make the story harder or weirder - the character was always important in the context of their past experiences. Of course it won't be Geralt, since Geralt is very well characterised in the short stories and novels, but it's still important to chreate a character who has some story behind them, some past misdeeds and experiences that influence the story that we'll be weaving later. This kind of sums up our approach. With Cyberpunk, we don't want to do this sort of laboratory cyberpunk, you know, running around labs and fighting rogue AIs, since that's not really that interesting. We want to have more Kingpin-like moments, I don't know if you remember that game...
AB: So, these street level stories that bring us closer to the character. Of course, there's always this epic moment, but we don't want it to be a game where we mow through hordes of corporate lab security guards. We want to explore other themes than that.
MK: So what more can you tell us about the gameplay? I understand that it's still somewhat far away, that The Witcher 3 will be out first and it's going to be big, but sci-fi was always closer to my heart and cyberpunk excites a bit more. What can you say about the game?
AB: I can say that there will be a lot of guns. Very well-made guns. (laughs)
MK: You don't have to be so specific (laughs). Will we be able to be a metal star?
AB: Ha, that's great, isn't it?
MK: That's one of the things I associate with Cyberpunk. (laughs)
AB: Johnny Silverhand, right... We do have to tackle all those Cyberpunk staples, even those which kind of became obsolete, we have to tackle them too...
MK: So if someone really wants to learn something about Cyberpunk, they should just research the pen & paper RPG, right? They might find a lot of hints regarding your game.
AB: They can always come here and work for us on Cyberpunk. (laughs)
MK: It's good that you mentioned that, because that's my next question. How does that look like from your perspective? You say you're a small or medium sized studio, but you also mention 200 people...
AB: Well, a lot of things have recently happened in game development - new financing models, new direct methods of reaching gamers, digital platforms have gained a lot of importance and I think they'll soon be dominant, and all of this allowed smaller studios to make games that are based more on gameplay, smaller, made by smaller teams, with a smaller risk factor than us. We're interested in grand stories, we want, at least for now, to tell great stories, and that's what we find fun, that's what integrates the team. This type of games is usually made by big companies, we're a smaller one in comparison but I think we made a name for ourselves in the world of game dev and we have a recognizable brand. Still we're a smaller team than the great industry players who make these AAA games. Of course there are smaller studios that make other types of games, but I position us among the bigger storytellers of epicness (laughs)
MK: I'm asking about the size of the team because when we talked to Tomek Bagiński, he said that in his line of work, there's still not enough people in Poland who qualify for that. Do you have the same problem?
AB: I'm going to make a rather unpopular statement now - we started to draw a lot of people from abroad. People who want to work for the same money, in the same conditions, who travel from project to project. This also gave us a huge boost of knowledge about game development. We've got people who worked on the latest Star Wars, on Alpha Protocol, on Splinter Cell, we've really got leading specialists from the west, so at one point it turned out that that the really small Polish market that doesn't allow for fast, dynamic growth, is no longer blocking us that much. Of course, it's great to develop our home game dev market, and that's always a positive future investment, but the internal studio dynamics have changed a bit, there's about 30, 40 people from abroad, and I think it was a good decision, because we received a great deal of know-how. On the other hand, we're always facing some problems, as anyone. The biggest of course is finding programmers - they're like diamonds, there are very few who are able to do great things, especially in game dev, which is not that lucrative compared to, say, business applications. Programmers probably earn more there, so we're looking for people we can afford, but who at the same time are passionate about games. And that's always a problem, so - if you're a programmer who'd like to work for CD Projekt, be my guest, it's always good to get new people for that team.
MK: When I talked to you about a year ago, I think, maybe a bit earlier, before the games were announced and The Witcher 2 for consoles was still in production, it was obvious that CD Projekt was starting to grow dynamically, you were starting to look for people to work for RED, and you were focusing largely on people with a passion. I understand you brought some people from abroad, but on the other hand, you're still hunting for passionate people, and it's possible for someone to come to you, try their luck, say "I want to make games, I have experience in this and this", or even no experience at all... Did you manage to get some good people this way?
AB: Yeah. Younger generations have great will for trying out new things, they don't limit themselves like the older generations. When I was starting on game dev, it did exist in Poland already, but now there's really a lot of studios, both bigger and smaller ones, and you can also try doing things on your own. The older generations had this sort of block, "OK, I don't know anything about this, games are made by someone else, I don't know who... aliens probably" and so on. Young people don't think like that anymore, they try, they send application letters to polish studios and international ones, and many of them succeed, since you'll always succeed if you try long and hard enough. And that's great. We're not closing ourselves away, we don't want to work only with veterans. Of course, working with veterans is always nice since they bring their own knowledge with them, while with beginner developers you need to put a lot of work initially to give them your own knowledge... But still, passion always helps creativity, and game development is 100% about creativity, it's not IT as it's sometimes qualified in Poland, it's entertainment, it's a creative industry. You need new energy, new ideas, inner strength and a will to create.
MK: Considering all that growth, your studio getting bigger and the games gaining more recognition, can you allow yourselves to, as you said, get some experienced programmers from abroad, or are you still thinking, at this scale, in terms of local, polish patriotism? I mean, The Witcher 3, The Witcher in general, is one of Poland's best export products. (laughs)
AB: We got a lot a lot of applications from the west, we get applications from the best people, with really great projects in their resumees, like people who worked on the first Deus Ex, and that really brings a great deal of knowledge to the studio. We do value being from Poland, a bit restless, hungry for challenges, not taking the easy way. I think the problem of long established, experienced studios is that they've been forced into corporate slavery. Take Bioware, I think at some point they just lost all interest, at least the studio heads...
MK: ...And they left to open a brewery, I heard. At least one of them. (laughs)
AB: If you're talking about Ray and Greg, then yeah, they were obviously burnt out. And that's why I value the wildness here in Poland, this is still the beginning here. Game development is decades old now, but it's still this fun terra incognita here and a lot of people see it as such so they're not afraid to experiment, and I think it's a very good thing. But yes, we do get experienced devs from abroad and as I said, this brought breath of fresh air to the studio in a big way.
MK: Of course, you're keeping tabs on the competition, not only when it comes to strictly RPG games. In recent years, one title that gets brought up a lot is Dark Souls - even your former co-worker Tom Gop likes to talk about it a lot and is probably working on something somewhat similar. What other recent RPG games would you say really brought something to the table, changed something, were inspiring for you as well?
AB: Not much has happened really in the last few years in the RPG genre. Skyrim naturally, which did something fun with a touch of oldschool... it's not really anything fresh, but these games are just great and they're something to model after in some aspects. Dark Souls proved that perfect gameplay can bring a lot to the experience - it's an RPG, but you know it's kind of...
MK: Technical. There's always this war between people who prefer either numbers or story in RPG games.
AB: It's kind of a japanese-style RPG. Someone really, really put a lot of work to polish the combat pacing, and they polished it enough that they could build something really extraordinary around the combat system. That's also a bit oldschool in a way, and also somewhat risky, since they could have failed. After all, the first game was only a moderate success, at least initially, only later did it turn out to be a big success, and sequels came. But as far as inpirations go, there were sadly no great breakthroughs in RPGs, for one simple reason - it's a very difficult genre, usually extensive, which means they're risky and expensive to produce. A lot of smaller games are being made, even on Kickstarter, but they're usually callbacks to old franchises, old solutions, counting on that hint of nostalgia in all of us, people who played other games, and referring to those old experiences, Amiga and earlier. And that's good, it's good that games like these are being made, but there haven't been any games like KotOR recently, games triumphantly bring new stuff to the genre. I think it's better to look for innovation in the crossing over of genres. Now, I don't want to sound trivial, but it's great when you have good mechanics, for example shooting, in an RPG. Or good graphics, when they were usually ignored. These elements are also important.
MK: You're the first in this new gen to announce an RPG... well, OK, there's the Dark Souls sequel coming as well, while Bioware went somewhat silent - they're making that Dragon Age 3, but that's all they have announced. Bethesda only has The Elder Scrolls Online, but it's likely they're working on something else as well... So you're the first studio to reveal its game and that's the league you're plaing in now, right? Not the Kickstarter-funded games but rather the grand RPG franchises? Aren't you afraid of something that the competition is hiding? If you were to point at one studio who's your biggest rival in the industry now, who would you pick, if anyone?
AB: From what I know, or what I can speak about, I'd be scared of how fun the combat in Deep Down looks, I think that's what it's called, it's not fully revealed yet, but I really like what they showed at the Sony conference. But I don't think it's an RPG, probably more of an action game.
MK: Rumour is it's the new Dragon's Dogma.
AB: Well, we'll see. The combat looked fun, it had that something, that feeling of adventure, realism and danger at the same time, something I'd like to see more of in games. Anyway, as far as RPGs go, we're in a good situation - it's tied to our business model somewhat, RPGs are something of a niche that's difficult to reach for many studios. You have to have an idea and have some experience in order to make an RPG. As I said, the scope in this genre is larger than, say, in an FPS, which also means that the competition is smaller, so you have more breathing room. So I'm not really afraid of anything, there will be other games, but there's a place for quite a few RPGs a year, good, big ones, and I think gamers appreciate that. There's no problem of too many games coming out one year. Three first person shooters two third person ones...
MK: ...so you don't have to compete against others. Since RPGs are an evolving genre, and you need to have more action, more realism, everything needs to be fluid, work better... Aren't you slowly encroaching on Ubisoft territory? Assassin's Creed, Watch Dogs...
AB: I don't know, I'm not a big fan of Assassin's Creed. I know it's a good game, I hope I'm not hurting anyone's feelings here, but it it's a game with very repetitive gameplay, and I don't like that. I tend to feel this sort of... automation in Ubisoft games. It's great that there's a lot of stuff there, ships, naval battles and all these things, but I just not feeling it. I mean, I have this barrier to entry with that game. Honestly, I... Damn, now I'm going to get into some...
MK: Nah, I feel the same about that game. You're not alone there.
AB: Yeah, the game is well known and loved, millions of people buy it despite there being a new one each year, they have no problem with that. I do, but that's irrelevant since people buy it and like it. But...
MK: It's not something you want to do, right?
AB: Yeah, we want something else. We improved and unified the RPG layer to allow unscripted combat, and even when it's scripted it's based on conditions that are checked, for example if there's anything neaby that can launch a smal cutscene so it looks nicer - but those cutscenes are more like little touches that serve to push the story and make you realise the cool character you're playing as. Anyway, we're more interested by the RPG mechanics, but these naturally have to be implemented in such a way that the player doesn't need to spent too much time deciphering the rules. This is what's important, for the barrier to entry to be as low as possible.
MK: When you release The Witcher 2, didn't you feel the need to slow down a bit, maybe focus on something smaller instead, gather your strength?
AB: It's like I said, it's important to view our studio in the proper context. We're an independent studio that constantly needs to prove something, and it's a bit that these large games... I mean, we always want to reach that top shelf, among these other greatest independent developer studios, so we constantly have to make these large, grand things. However, it would certainly be fun to make some good episodic content. The sort of thing Telltale Games does, it's really great stuff, awesome stories that turned out to be very popular too.
MK: Again, that's the serious approach we've talked about earlier, gamers want that.
AB: We have a lot in common with that company, we like the things they like, and, as far as I know, it's a mutual feeling. So yeah, we'd like to do something like that, but, well, we're busy right now with The Witcher and Cyberpunk.
MK: OK, these two games aside there are some things I just have to ask you. Above all, I really need to ask you, because our listeners really want to know that, especially one of them - what have you played lately?
AB: Heh. Recently, I played Hitman, and, would you believe it, Braid, which I've had in my backlog for a long time now. So, these are the games I played. Oh, I finished the new Far Cry too, from Ubisoft, which I liked, surprisingly.
MK: Did you like the new Hitman?
AB: It's different from the previous one, and that hurts me a bit. I mean, there's all these conditions, combat, QTE, I don't feel the same freedom I did in the previous games. I can disguise myself as the cook, but I can't plan the action as I'd want to, with that degree of freedom. The game's constantly holding my hand.
MK: There's really no way of planning your actions in the new Hitman, is there?
AB: Yeah... And all those gamey solutions, you know, we'll give you points for this action etc., that's just infuriating for me. I hate that. I hated it in Bulletstorm, I hate it here, I'm a completely different type of player, I'm not interested in these additional mechanics that basically serve no purpose. Maybe it's fun to upload your score to facebook, compare it with friends, but come on...
MK: You probably liked Dishonored, didn't you?
AB: Honestly? I haven't finished Dishonored, I need to get back to that. But I think I'm going to like it.
MK: Do you even have the time and willingness to play games after a day spent working on your own games?
AB: I have a great appetite for games, actually. It's like a sense of duty, I have to play and finish them all, sometimes max tem. Honestly, the only thing hindering my gaming right now is of a personal nature, and I think I that will be over soon and I can play from dawn til' dusk again. I can't even imagine it being different. All industries have their passing fashions and tendencies, you just have to keep up.
MK: Just watch out that you don't burn out like the Bioware guys.
AB: Nah, I'm looking at my inner thermometer, and I'm really hot for my job. I mean, in a good way. I'm driven professionally, I don't think I'm going to burn out any time soon. (laughs)
MK: Well, that's good to hear, because I can't wait for your next two games, so I'm glad you're still having fun.
AB: That's very nice of you to say that.
MK: Great, now everyone will be saying I'm sucking up to you too much. And I won't lie and say I didn't like The Witcher 2, since The Witcher 2 was the best game I played in years. Definitely.
AB: For me, it's a game that still needed fixing, and I want to fix everything in The Witcher 3.
MK: Oh, I agree, I'm not saying you made a perfect game! (laughs)
AB: I think we're aware of our limitations, and we want to combat them. We arrogantly talk of 90+ scores and all that grandeur, true, but I have this approach regarding the studio, that we need to aim for the top. Later, we get checked on our promises, but you need to have this civil courage if you want to do great things. In Poland it's usual to want to sort of keep a low profile, to avoid getting judged, but that's not the best strategy for people who wannt to achieve something.
MK: Wrapping up now, tell us, Adam, when will you be ready to show anything new regarding The Witcher 3 or Cyberpunk?
AB: I think I can promise we'll show something for The Witcher 3 at E3, and Cyberpunk... we'll see.
MK: At which conference? Sony or Microsoft? (laughs) OK, forget it, I didn't ask. One more thing - I remember for the Witcher 2, you stressed many times that the game would not just be suited for core players, but also for people that just wanted to play it for the story, for non-gamers to experience it. I got reminded about that when you mentioned Telltale Games, because their games are like that, they're more experiences. You make some choices now and then, but that's it. Do you think about the new games like that also? Cyberpunk, The Witcher 3 as stressless experiences?
AB: You don't have to break the game to achieve that, it's a matter of balancing the difficulty and, for example, having more info in the interface, Telltale games for example have these optional hints, and different difficylty levels. In The Witcher, you can achieve that without neutering the game of important elements. You just have to make the game easier, then you just go in a straight line, stopping at the key story choices. As I said, story is paramount for us. Personally, I never liked games like Tetris, based solely on gameplay, I always needed that deeper layer, adventure, that's what I expect from games, great adventures. So, that's paramount for us as a studio.
MK: Well, we're expecting great adventures too then. I hope we can talk to you again some day, maybe in a year or a year and a half, after the release of The Witcher 3. I hope you won't be running away from CD Projekt like some developers have been running away from some studios lately... Seems everyone's getting burnt out these days. Last year especially. But you're still here, right?
AB: Of course, I'm staying, I still have a lot of things to do! (laughs)
MK: Great! We wish you all the best in completing the saga... Oh, wait, one more thing... (laughs) You mentioned at the very beginning, that The Witcher was planned as a trilogy from the start. We've recently laughed about this, since it seems there's no work that ended up as a trilogy that wasn't planned as one. Do you have any proof that you were planning a trilogy? Can you defend that statement?
AB: Uh, heh... I could dig out some old e-mails from 10 years ago (laughs), where we planned the scope of the game, at some point, while talking to Michał Kiciński, there was even the idea that no, we should have four games, but ultimately we settled at three.
MK: So, we can really look forward to the conclusion of the Witcher story, and the end of Geralt's returns right? No sequels, prequels...
AB: I can't guarantee that! Mostly because we haven't thought about that yet. We are concluding the story, and it's a lot of work closing all those story threads, bringing it all together in a way that makes sense and just, well, not disappoint the players. And that's 100% our goal, we're not thinking about anything else.
MK: We're not stopping you any longer then, take your time and close all the threads, since I suspect there's still a lot that need closing even today, despite the late hours. Today's guest at Masa Kultury was Adam Badowski, and you'll be hearing us again in a week. Please subscribe to our facebook and visit us at masakultury.pl where you will always find more info about the current episode and other fun things that are happening that we couldn't discuss in the podcast for various reasons. I'm Michał Kowal and co-hosting was Szymon Adamus, and thanks again Adam for dropping by again and talking to us for so long.
AB: Thank you for having me, and greetings to all listeners!
MK: 'Til next time, then!
That's all, I hope you enjoyed it