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Fantastic PC (and soon Xbox 360) RPG, The Witcher 2, sold 1,110,055 copies last year, developer CD Projekt Red has revealed.
Of those copies, 270,000 were sold via digital distribution platforms: 40,000 on GOG.com, which leaves the lion's share of the remainder presumably to Steam (numbers not disclosed).
But most "remarkable" to CDPR managing director Adam Badowski, was that 401,543 copies of The Witcher 1 were sold last year.
"I have to admit, though, that the sales results for The Witcher, five years on from the game's premier, are remarkable," he commented.
"If anything, they prove that the content we put into our games ages well.
"The Witcher will continue to generate buzz in the coming years."
Eurogamer recently cornered Adam Badowski for a lengthy chat. He and marketing manager Michal Platkow-Gilewski revealed that CD Projekt Red was already working towards the next generation of consoles. On those machines will be the developer's next two major new games: one a new IP, the other The Witcher 3. They'll arrive simultaneously for PC and next-generation consoles in 2014/15. Witcher those games will arrive when, and Witcher the platforms they'll be on, were questions that couldn't be answered.
Consider that the new IP is being built by a team that's only just being put together, though, and it's likely that project will take longer to make.
We also wallowed on the topic of The Witcher 2 for PS3; talked about how expensive that new CGI Witcher 2 trailer was; and discussed possible next-generation technology not allowing pre-owned games to be played.
The next two major titles from Polish developer CD Projekt Red, scheduled for 2014/15, will be simultaneous multi-platform releases for PC and next-generation consoles, detective Eurogamer has discovered.
"We are definitely starting for new consoles," managing director Adam Badowski told us, when asked whether the pair of known-about "AAA+" games will be for this generation or the next.
"The market is ready for something new," heralded head of marketing Michal Platkow-Gilewski, "for something faster, more powerful."
Badowski added: "I can tell you we are and we were focusing on powerful gaming rigs. We're going to do something amazing, so we need extra processors.
"It will be multi-platform game, so the multi-release at the same time. But if you are talking about leading platform, we will use most powerful, just because it can give us the freedom of creation.
"And it's cool to develop something special, new - better than others on the market. It's our goal."
When does CD Projekt Red begin making an engine for the next generation of machines?
"We've already started," Badowski revealed.
"We prepared a backlog for the new features quite a long time ago."
"You probably know that we've decided to develop our new engine that is called Red Engine, so we've prepared a long-term plan for that engine. So we are yes, yes we are developing some features just for the new..."
Platkow-Gilewski interjected: "We are anticipating what the new generations of consoles may be."
"The market is ready for something new, for something faster, more powerful."
Michal Platkow-Gilewski, head of marketing, CD Projekt Red
"Not only consoles," Badowski butted in.
"What the platforms will be," Platkow-Gilewski answered. "And what will happen in the PC market, because you know we have to create something better than we could achieve today. We have to see a little bit the future, like other developers I guess."
The specs CD Projekt Red are working towards for these next-generation consoles are "quite powerful but nothing extraordinary", shared Badowski. But this is "our - I hope - lucky guess", he added, inferring that CD Projekt Red does not have next-gen dev kits. Platkow-Gilewski confirmed that what will be in next-gen consoles, "we don't know this, today".
CD Projekt Red talked about two major new games in November. These were described at a conference as "AAA+" games, and are scheduled for 2014/2015. A "AAA+" game is "something huge and it's multi-platform", explained Platkow-Gilewski.
One of these is new IP.
CD Projekt is putting together a new team to make this game. The Witcher team won't be involved. "The second team is just a few guys right now," shared Badowski, "because we decided not to split the original Witcher team in two parts, but to hire new staff, and we've just started."
"The second project is during the early pre-production stage, so we don't need the huge team for that."
What will this new IP be? "We are staying in RPG," Badowski said.
"The whole scenario is quite simple: we're going to create almost exactly the same kind of team, and our policy is to create RPG games for mature audiences. But of course the second title will be different than the first one. We need to change universe and gameplay mechanics, but the game will be based on a deep scenario as [are] The Witcher games."
"Our approach stays the same," Platkow-Gilewski reinforced, "we just want to refresh a little bit our minds and do something different."
This new IP is "not at all" to do with FPS They, which acquired studio Metropolis Software was working on up until January 2010.
"[The new IP] will be a mature RPG and story-driven game. I cannot say in what universe - maybe high fantasy, maybe not."
Adam Badowski, managing director, CD Projekt Red
Will this new IP be a science-fiction game?
"I cannot say right now," deflected Badowski. "It will be a mature RPG and story-driven game. I cannot say in what universe - maybe high fantasy, maybe not."
What's the other AAA+ game being made by The Witcher team, then?
It has to be The Witcher 3 - please can you put us out of our misery and confirm it, we asked?
"Frankly speaking, not yet," Platkow-Gilewski replied. "Give us some time; I'm sure we will announce it pretty fast in the following months, but we want to do everything in the proper order. And right now we are focused on polishing and bringing the Enhanced Edition to Xbox 360 and PC."
"Especially as on Xbox 360 we don't have the first instalment of The Witcher. So we want to slowly enter the market, educate our gamers/customers - we don't want to [talk] too much about our future projects for now."
"There are rumours that The Witcher is a saga..." Badowski teased, and confirmed that both of the "AAA+" projects "are in pre-production stage". We weren't allowed to know which would be released first, in 2014.
CD Projekt Red revealed three other games at the November conference: two "A" games for 2012, and one "AA" game for 2013.
We'll know "pretty soon" about the first "A" game, which will be released Q1 2012. It's definitely not a mobile game - CDPR isn't going there - but we may have prodded a sensitive spot when we asked if it was anything to do with The Witcher 1.
"You are unpacking the gift, you know," Platkow-Gilewski told us. "Really soon we will inform the community about our surprise. It will come pretty soon, in the following two months."
Whether the second "A" game will be similar we will have to wait and see. That's coming later this year.
What exactly is an "A" game?
"Give us some time; I'm sure we will announce [The Witcher 3] pretty fast in the following months, but we want to do everything in the proper order. And right now we are focused on polishing and bringing the Enhanced Edition to Xbox 360 and PC."
"The definition of product A is that this is a good quality game for a single platform which doesn't involve enormous effort on our side," Platkow-Gilewski explained. "This is our internal definition. After the first surprise, maybe we'll reveal some information about the second surprise for this year."
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings - Enhanced Edition on Xbox 360 and PC is classified as "AAA". No plus. This is "something big, or huge, but for a single platform", Platkow-Gilewski clarified.
What, then, is the "AA" game due in 2013? It's unlikely to be a PS3 edition, given the Xbox 360's "AAA" status - not to mention that CDPR hasn't made a decision yet about whether to convert the game to Sony's machine.
"AA" titles are "big games with good scores" of 85 per cent or higher on Metacritic, we were told. "They have some selling potential, but they don't require more than two years of our work," said Platkow-Gilewski.
(Note that while the Xbox 360 version of The Witcher 2 took one year, that period was converting an already made game, not creating one from scratch - which is presumably what Platkow-Gilewski means.)
This "AA" game sounds like an expansion pack for The Witcher 2. Is it?
"Let's release the game first and we will see," answered Platkow-Gilewski gingerly.
"The thing is, we have to measure our capabilities, and we have big plans for the future."
"Believe us," he urged, "we want to do as much as possible."
Those sex cards, eh? I was determined to collect as many of them as I could. If that meant going out of my way to safely escort a barmaid home late at night, so be it. Convincing a dryad that sex is not just for procreation, that it's fun and can relieve stress? No problem. I couldn't help myself. It was like sexy Pokémon.
The Witcher's anthropological commentary on humans' slavish obedience to their base, animalistic instincts, to the detriment of the greater good, was intelligent and incisive. Or at least it would have been if that's what the sex cards represented. Realistically though, they were purely for titillation.
Irrespective of the heavy-handed way developer CD Projekt RED implemented erotica in The Witcher (a concept the studio didn't so much flirt with as take it to an abandoned mill and indelicately shag senseless), its inclusion was representative of the core elements of characterisation that run through a game influenced by the short stories of Andrzej Sapkowsk, which tell of the infamous Geralt of Rivia, the 'White Wolf', a monster-slaying mercenary known as a 'Witcher'.
The game plumbs the ethos of these short stories to add definition and weight to the world and its characters. These are people with histories. Some share a personal history with Geralt, though none are probed in too much detail. Nor are you beaten over the head with endless conversation trees, because the developer attempts to shoehorn the origins of each relationship into the tale of the amnesiac White Wolf.
The amnesia mechanic is a little unfortunate a clumsy way to explain why it is that you play Geralt as a 'level 1' Witcher rather than the famed monster-slayer that everyone else seems to know him as. It's especially clumsy as much of Geralt's skill progression is based on combat prowess that you imagine would be so ingrained in him as to be second nature.
The stripping away of abilities and powers is the eternal conundrum for games that tell you you're a fully-formed powerhouse but still need to leave room for progression. CD Projekt RED wisely chooses not to make too much of a song and dance of it. You're Geralt of Rivia, you have amnesia for a reason that is never fully explained. Now get on with it.
Being assigned the role of Geralt, amnesiac or not, enables some smart narrative twists based on the choices you make guided by Geralt's ambiguous moral compass. You are not some abandoned child or lowly commoner destined for great things, one who starts with a blank slate to be written and a forehead size, degree of overbite and hair colour decided upon by random tugs on a sliding scale. Here you play Geralt of Rivia, Witcher, professional monster-slayer, gambler, womaniser, drinker and, frankly, a bit of a hard nut.
He also has his bad points. He doesn't seem to know how to stand naturally during a conversation, for one thing. Despite CD Projekt RED's love for its first game being plain to see in other areas, you sometimes have to squint and turn your head sideways to see past the ugly. The dark fantasy art direction is sufficiently bleak, gothic and full of character and, granted, Geralt's movement in combat is fluid enough, with cuts, thrusts and balletic twirls to reward the well-timed mouse clicks that facilitate the combo system. But during conversation the characters appear beholden to an incompetent puppet master.
The 'Enhanced Edition', released almost a year after the original, went some way toward rectifying this, introducing extra animations and NPC models alongside other welcome touches such as an overhaul of the inventory system to separate and sort the numerous alchemy ingredients. The developers also made a significant gesture of removing digital rights management altogether, resulting in no install limits and no disk check. Furthermore, it packaged all of the extras up as a free download for those who had already bought the game.
On returning to the game now, it's the stories within stories that impress most. Those narrative mini-arcs that show the game's tagline to be more than idle boast: "There is no good, no evil Only decisions and consequences." There's the expected branching storyline, but with very little of the blatant good vs. evil choices that are so clearly signposted in other RPGs. As long as you choose the path that is best suited to how you're playing Geralt, rather than that which you estimate will net you the most loot, you're never made to feel that you've made 'wrong' choice.
Consequences play out as mini cut-scenes in the style of hand-painted storyboards, with Geralt providing a voiceover explaining that the events of right now are transpiring because of the decision that you made, in some cases, several hours previously (there's no quick-loading in order to pick the other choice).
The decision that stuck with me most came on my first playthrough. Having journeyed to an out-of-the-way swamp and completed several of the local quests, I had to choose one side in a conflict: the rebel force or the authoritarian soldiers. Neither side is explicitly good or evil, and you can see the point of view of both.
The rebels are made up of the non-human races (elves, dwarves and the like) and are victims of racism. They've been forced from their homes to live on the edge of poverty. With barely enough food and water for their families, they have taken to obtaining these things by force, which in some cases has led to innocent humans being caught up in the fighting between them and the authorities. You can see the persecution and, in most cases, it would be simple enough to side with them to fight against the 'evil' empire that imposes such oppression.
Except that here the empire isn't evil, and nor is it even your enemy. From the soldier's point of view, the rebels are effectively terrorists and it's not them forcing the suppression on non-humans, but society as a whole. Though the authorities are doing nothing to redress the balance, their interest is in keeping the peace and stopping any further attacks by the rebels.
So do you lead the imperial unit to the rebel camp to rout them completely, or do you lead the rebels in a pre-emptive ambush on the imperial guards camped in the forest? I felt that as a Witcher I should remain impartial and not get involved in the politics, so I continued to go about my business, determined not to help either, although it seemed that neither would attack the other until I acted and both would be stuck in their respective camps for game-time eternity. Eventually I left the swamplands, willing to leave that particular branch of the story unresolved, such was my feeling for remaining true to the neutrality of the Witcher ethos.
But it did resolve. Despite what seems like a two-choice scenario, CD Projekt RED built in an invisible third choice: do nothing, as I had. This choice comes with its own outcomes and pretty storyboards further down the line, and you're chided for your neutrality; reminded that it has its own consequences. Had I created my own character, I likely would have chosen one side over the other, but with The Witcher I felt it was my duty not to choose, because that was what a Witcher would do.
The Witcher's legacy to me is that it encouraged me to play an actual role, rather than flesh out a cipher with a range of canned goods and evils. It illustrated that game developers needn't rely on reward or punishment to make us care about the choices we make: provide compelling narrative, not shiny trinkets, as the preeminent consequence of our decisions and that will be enough. We'll even forgive you the sex cards.