The Witcher 3 quest designers talk balancing story with gameplay and declaring war on 'fetch quests'

The Witcher 3 quest designers talk balancing story with gameplay and declaring war on 'fetch quests'
Matthew Jarvis

By Matthew Jarvis

May 5th 2016 at 9:27AM

‘Some characters are so important that they need whole stories to be told about them, otherwise it’s better to remove them completely’

CD Projekt Red quest designers Pawel Sasko and Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz have revealed their methods for building the narrative missionsof The Witcher III.

Talking at length in a Q&A on the Witcher forums, the pair said that the critically-acclaimed RPG’s open world threw up a number of technical challenges when it came to implementing quest lines.

“Openness of the world dictates a specific design approach: from the very beginning we have to think about all the possible paths and unusual ways to finish the quest, and have it all secured and working in logical ways,” explained Sasko.

“It’s unbelievably easy to screw up at this state – any change of asset, location or scene may cause some unexpected consequences in the quest (for instance: suddenly there is new path that allows a player to get to a closed location through diving or climbing). In such cases our approach was always focused around supporting more paths than blocking them – but this is consuming in both time and assets, so we have to be very precise.

“Our open world also affected our Cinematic designers in a tremendous way – we had to foresee what angle certain NPCs could be approached at, so that cutscene fit well with gameplay. The same applies to weather, wandering animals or strange times of the day that the player decided to show up and talk to the character – all of those small things we had to take into consideration. Our embedded and proficient QA team helped us tremendously here by spotting all the small issues and fixing them. Currently we have a pretty clear idea of how to do such things, but it took us years to figure out.”

Tomaszkiewicz went on to respond to questions over the way that quest mechanics are integrated with the game’s narrative elements.

“Ideas for quests often came from the writers, especially for the main storyline,” he revealed. “The biggest challenge in that is you often get stories that can’t be told to the player in any way other than very custom cutscenes or dialogues. This can be done of course, but it results in long, boring sequences without any action or gameplay in between, which we try to avoid. In order to “translate” these stories into the language of the game, quest designers talk extensively with the writers to understand the core idea behind their story, so it can be adjusted in a way that won’t kill that original idea but will make the quest work better in terms of game mechanics.”

Elaborating on the process of developing more complex characters and stories, Sasko said that a hard-edged approach was required – even when it came to already established NPCs.

“There is one interesting and unique game design lesson that we learned during production – some characters are so important that they need whole stories to be told about them, otherwise it’s better to remove them completely,” he detailed.

“There were characters in the past instalments of the series that we were considering, but it never really worked out well and we have been struggling to pull it off in a meaningful and satisfactory way.”

Tomaszkiewicz responded to one fan’s query regarding the use of so-called ‘fetch quests’ in the game, with CD Projekt Red having previously pledged to eliminate the use of such repetitive tasks in gameplay.

The fan suggested that such objectives had simply been replaced with ‘follow quests’, to which Tomaszkiewicz retorted: “I wouldn’t consider witcher senses or following clues in general to be equivalent to “fetch quests” or a replacement for them.

“Yes, we have declared war on “fetch quests”, but as I’ve read comments about that, it occurred to me that the term itself is understood differently by different people, so I believe it’s worth specifying what we interpret it as,” he continued.

“When I think of “fetch quest” there’s a picture of a shopping list in my mind – get me 10 bear pelts, 5 eggs, 6 candles, etc. Quests with little to no story around them, quests that don’t engage player at all and are there just to add some extra hours of gameplay. It doesn’t mean, mind you, that no NPC in our game will ask you to *bring something* for them – that’s not the point. I don’t mind at all, if I have to bring an object to an NPC, if the fact of bringing that item triggers an interesting conversation, a choice that feels impactful, uncovers some secret that the NPC was hiding, etc.

“I believe that we managed to get rid of most quests that fit in our definition of fetch quests, and I think the game benefited greatly from this.”