E3 2011: The Witcher 2: From PC to Xbox 360
CD Projekt Red recently let the world know its role-playing sequel, The Witcher 2, is coming to Xbox 360. That's great news for those who play only on Microsoft's console or don't have a PC with enough power to get the game running, because The Witcher 2 happens to be one of the best role-playing games in years. Though CD Projekt Red's franchise hasn't yet been made available to those outside of the PC realm, it sounds as though the studio is putting a lot of time and effort into ensuring a smooth transition with this project.
John Mamais, executive producer at CD Projekt Red, provides more detail.
IGN: First off, when did development on the console version of The Witcher 2 begin? Was it known fairly early on in the process that a console version would happen?
John Mamais: The REDengine has been in development for over three years, with cross-platform capability in mind from the beginning. However as a matter of focus we decided to release exclusively on the PC first. We started work on the Xbox version five months ago, beginning with a small team that concentrated on solving some of the deeper technical challenges facing us in the conversion. While we're still developing enhancements and improvements for the PC release, the majority of the studio has now shifted to the 360.
IGN: I know in the past, with Rise of the White Wolf, there was definite interest at CD Projekt to bring the franchise to consoles so why with The Witcher 2 instead of the original? Was it because of funding, timing or did it have to do with the gameplay and interface?
John Mamais: Rise of the White Wolf was based on The Witcher, which was released at the end of 2007, making it now almost four years old. The Witcher 2 has evolved on many levels, and it's important for us to bring the best and latest possible version of the game to console first.
It's not crucial that console gamers never got to play Rise of the White Wolf since each game has its own complete story, with its own beginning and end. The first game tells a story connected with the Order of the Burning Rose. The second is about Assassins of Kings – they are two separate episodes in the saga. You can easily immerse yourself in the events and the game world even if you never played the first part or read Sapkowski books. Either or both will give you additional flavor and depth, but they are absolutely unnecessary to enjoy The Witcher 2.
IGN: What types of things do you have to consider differently when creating a cross-platform game as opposed to a platform exclusive? How do you go about striking the balance between delivering a product that feels at home on each platform without alienating a specific fan base?
John Mamais: We're looking at the console adaptation from a usability standpoint. Basically, this means making the Witcher experience suitable for the new platform, but without altering the unique flavor of the game experience! This mainly translates into adapting the user interface, camera and controls. If we can execute well on these mechanics for the console, while preserving the franchise-defining features like our non-linear storytelling and mature tone, we believe we can be successful on 360.
It's important to stress that we are not changing the underlying game vision. I think The Witcher 2 on Xbox will be one of the deepest, most non-linear and most mature games ever released on any console. And since this is, in my opinion, our core strength, changing it in order to suit a wider audience would be an unforgivable mistake. We believe that there are lots of mature console gamers looking for the type of deep, complex experience The Witcher 2 offers.
It's also important to note that any new features and content developed for the console adaptation will in turn be considered as potential updates to the PC game. We will continue to be firmly committed to both versions, so as not to alienate either player base.
IGN: It seems like a few things in the PC version of The Witcher 2 – the quick-time event bar fights and occasional button-tapping moment in the boss fights – are tailored more to a console game, even though they work fine on PC. Were those mechanics in the design initially, or were they added because it was known a console version would eventually be produced?
John Mamais: The QTEs were designed for the PC game, to make it more film-like in tone. We stripped them back significantly over time because we found them very spectacular but often too simplistic; they limited the experience for such a complex RPG. That said, some of these elements have stayed in the game, and should actually translate over nicely to the console version.
In terms of designing the other features, we took into account that we might someday bring the game to consoles, but this was never our main consideration The most important was always was how well any new solution would fit the current version, the PC.
IGN: For redesigning the combat system, which in The Witcher 2 feels more action-heavy compared to its predecessor, what types of decisions did you have to make along the way to ensure it was enjoyable for the mouse and keyboard crowd as well as those who play with a gamepad? Will the interface change at all for the console version?
John Mamais: The first prototypes for The Witcher 2 were actually made for gamepad because we took many of the combat control ideas from Rise of The White Wolf. We then transferred these over and worked with them specifically for the PC standard of keyboard and mouse; this went on right up to our PC Alpha.
We came up with a system that works very well, and fulfills our goals of allowing players to be more directly involved in combat, and of making battles really interactive, two elements were often criticized in The Witcher 1. After the system was solid on PC, we started translating it back to gamepad. So, as you see, there's no simple answer to this. But we did eventually end up with a scheme that functions flawlessly on both platforms.
The GUI will be changed for the 360; it first needs to be re-engineered, then we'll tweak it for usability.
IGN: Was the original goal to release the console version at the same time as the PC version? Or did you always plan to lead with PC and bring the console titles out at a later date?
John Mamais: The first Witcher was a PC exclusive, and a huge community of PC players built up around it. We wanted to stay loyal to those fans and not disappoint them. The PC has also certain advantages that we used in development process. As we all know simultaneous releases of multiplatform games tend to treat the PC as a port from a lead console platform. This affects the quality of the visuals tremendously, and sometimes even the playability of the PC experience.
Our goal was to keep the PC specifics and take advantage of the most sophisticated hardware, which - let's be honest – has left the current generation of consoles far behind. The similar philosophy was described by DICE's general manager, Karl Magnus Troedsson, on Battlefield 3. Right now, our game can efficiently use all the power anyone can dream of in the newest CPUs, GPUs, etc, That's awesome for players who love to upgrade their gaming rigs, and want to see game worlds that are visually as close as possible to the real one.
We decided to release on 360 after the PC because we weren't sure about being able to move forward simultaneously on two platforms with the required focus. And compromise was out of the question since it would affect the quality on both. So, we decided to go our own way – for which our company is pretty well known. First, we committed ourselves to making the best possible PC game, and now, we're doing exactly the same on the Xbox version.
We also decided not to rush the process, so we taking our time to be sure we will deliver a really polished experience. I think many of us have already had enough of ports that were rushed across different platforms - we really don't want go this route...
IGN: Are you able to announce a release date for The Witcher 2 on Xbox 360, as well as platforms? If there's no specific date, what time frame are you targeting for release?
John Mamais: We are targeting the end of this year. However, as already stated, we won't want to rush it out. We intend to spend the time we need to reach a comparable if not higher, in some aspects, level of quality than we reached on the PC version.
IGN: The Witcher 2 on PC is one of the prettiest games in existence with all the settings cranked up. Can you talk about the process of trying to transfer the same kind of visual quality to a console? Is it possible? And if not, what sorts of concessions need to be made?
John Mamais: To put it simply, we're aiming to deliver the best-looking Xbox title ever. There are some trade-offs in changing platforms, but mainly related to their respective capabilities. We created our game assets at the highest quality level, and the textures and models were made to be as efficient as possible. So we have a solid graphical base, and we know it runs on the 360. What's left is primarily a matter of post-processing.
IGN: Will The Witcher 2 on consoles include all the same content as the PC version or will additional downloadable content be packed in? Will the console version come on multiple discs?
John Mamais: Any DLC we've created for the PC game will be included in the console version. And the other way around, the new gameplay and cutscenes we're developing for the 360 release will be available for PC gamers for free as DLC. We have some very interesting plans in this regard, but it's still early to talk about them. We intend to provide more details at Gamescom in August.
The number of spoken languages we ship with for the 360 will probably be the main determining factor in regard to the number of disks. This has yet to be finalized.
IGN: This questions isn't really related to the focus of the interview, but how has The Witcher 2 been selling on PC? Are you able to mention specific numbers? How have retail and digital download sales compared?
John Mamais: The Witcher 2 reached an impressive 400k sell-through in the first week – so we are very, very happy. We're not ready to discuss the specific proportions of retail and digital sales just yet, but we can say that the digital distribution numbers have been very satisfying; this channel has becomes a very important one.
Overall we expected to exceed sales of The Witcher 1 by 30%, but now we might do much better. We may reveal more about our numbers once we will receive data for the entire second quarter.
IGN: Can we expect future versions of The Witcher to appear on consoles as well?
John Mamais: Right now our full focus is on The Witcher 2 X360. Of course, we're developing our technology to be as multi-platform as possible. While planning and developing any new game it's good to consider the opportunity to introduce it to many gamers via different hardware platforms. So in general, the answer is yes - but for now, X360 is our main target.
IGN: Thanks very much for your time.
John Mamais: Thank you very much.