This article was originally published at Another-Castle.com
Questions about Quests
Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz is the Lead Quest Designer for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt who was down under for this year’s Penny Arcade Expo (PAX). Busy man that he is, we were unable to have an interview with him on the show floor, but he was kind enough to respond by email to questions I wrote and had forwarded to him.
I reviewed The Witcher 3 at Another Castle, giving it my and the website’s highest praise. I want to avoid gushing but I sincerely consider it one of the best games ever made. One aspect in particular that I gave high praise to was the sheer variety within the main quests. Even monster quests seemed unique. Was avoiding repetition in quests a major consideration? If so, were there many quests cut as a result?
Yes, it was one of our main design principles for quest design in The Witcher 3 – we wanted to avoid “fetch” and “filler” quests at all costs. Every quest was supposed to have something interesting and memorable in it, be it a custom gameplay solution, interesting reference, or a funny joke. I wouldn’t say we’ve cut anything based on that principle, because we avoided designing quests like these in the first place — there wasn’t anything to cut.
In many RPGs, it is easy to differentiate between side quests and the story quest line. In the Witcher 3, I found that even monster contracts often introduced background stories and new characters. What’s more, some of these characters appeared again later in the story. The first two games also had this to an extent but for me it was perfected in the third instalment. Are you able to give some insight into the process the team went through in designing such elaborate quest lines?
Well, first of all, with all quests we stuck to the principle I mentioned before. Secondly, when we designed main and secondary quests we always gave a thought to connections — for example, you meet Rosa var Attre in the main storyline. Designers had an idea to use this character more, since she was pretty interesting and didn’t have much screen time in the story. Thus, we added a side quest. Later on, when we were working on some changes to the prologue of the game, we added her father to the imperial palace too. This should tell you already how flexible we are with our design. I think it\’s a part of the final effect.
Designing a game that is both story-driven and open world can be difficult as the latter is more player controlled while the narrative is largely controlled by the designers. A problem with implementing both is that the players actions can contradict the character’s motivations, desires and beliefs. Did this potential conflict play a part in the overall design of the game?
Yes, it was a big challenge we were aware of. We’ve worked really hard on combining the two, fire and water you might say. We had to adjust the way we construct quests, how we guide players, how to distribute information between quests, etc.
‘The Bloody Baron’ quest was perhaps the most memorable and moving quest in the game. Indeed, I was surprised at how emotionally attached I became to the characters involved. Are you able to give some background as to the origin of that quest?
That specific quest, or quest line (since usually people refer to the effect of the work of multiple designers), went over multiple iterations. It was very important for us and we wanted to make sure that it hit the sweet spot. The base idea for the quest came from our Lead Writer, Marcin Blacha, but the idea for using the Botchling monster was proposed by a quest designer, Paweł Sasko, who found the “monster” in a Slavic bestiary. We instantly fell in love with idea, and the tragic context it added to the story. Paweł went on with that direction, writers loved it too. I think this was a big factor in its success.
One other issue with open-world design in a story-driven experience is that the freedom to explore and do side quests can undermine the urgency of the plot. Is this something you considered when designing the main questline or is it something you feel is better left to the player?
It is something we were thinking about a lot when designing the game’s structure. Our idea to address that was to make the first part of the main storyline less dynamic, more investigation-like, so it wouldn’t conflict with the need of doing side quests. The second part of the game was supposed to feel more dynamic and urgent, that’s why it was a bit more linear. In the end, we came to the conclusion that players will do what they want in this open structure anyway, so the best we can do is ease the feeling of broken urgency when they come back to doing main quests.
What was your favourite quest overall?
I think the one in Kaer Morhen, when all witchers get to meet again, talk about old times and get drunk. It had a good mix of funny and emotional moments, exactly what I want from a game.
We greatly appreciate Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz giving his time to answer these questions. Thank you to Mr. Tomaszkiewicz and the rest of the CD Projekt RED team and congratulations again on the success of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.