Last week I got to play a few hours of The Witcher 3 (read Tom Senior’s hands-on impressions of the same demo), and I can see why it was delayed. The characters, voice acting, and animations are great, and what little combat I managed in my three hours of play was complex and challenging, but there were a lot of little things that didn’t quite work. Characters sometimes popped in after a scene had loaded, the framerate dipped a few times, it was generally hard to jump and climb, I got one crash, and I didn’t like the controller controls much. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play with a mouse and keyboard for the demo, as that mapping is still being tweaked.
These are the kinds of things CD Projekt RED is working on as it approaches the new May 19th release date. After playing, I had a chat with Miles Tost, a level designer on the game, to get some insight on the PC features, what’s being fixed, and what it took to design such a huge world.
PC Gamer: From your perspective, what needs to be done before you sell The Witcher 3?
Miles Tost, Level Designer: There are some small hiccups here and there that still need to be addressed to make for a thoroughly smooth experience. One of the bigger things we’re aware of is the horse, which is probably our main thing that we are working on. Actually, the cool thing about that is that this is one of the main complains of the people, and not, for example, the story. People are not saying, “Alright, the story sucks.” They’re saying the horse controls could be better, which, for us, that’s something that’s perfectly manageable to fix within the time that we have. Like, revamping the entire story or something? That would not be really possible.
Another thing is, of course, the performance hiccups you can see time to time. Those are basically—they’re no-brainers, essentially, right. They need to go. And that’s something we should also very well be able to deal with until launch.
At one point, when I got off the horse, Geralt stayed in his horse animation. So he was walking like he was still on the horse.
Yeah, you get these things in open world games [laughs]. I kind of look forward to all these glitch reels. You’ll get them. That’s something that just belongs to open world games, I guess.
You can’t fix absolutely everything.
No, no, there’s always a way to kind of—obviously we want to minimize it as much as possible. As long as it’s not intrusive, right, and hinders your gameplay experience, it’s not horrible. Bugs that stop you in your track and prevent you from continuing on, those are really bad, but if you have some cosmetic issue they can be kind of funny.
I used a controller to play because that’s what the demo was set up for, but I’m curious about how the mouse and keyboard controls are coming. There are things like Geralt’s spells, for example, and you can only select one at a time on a radial menu. Is there a reason for that? It feels like they could be mapped to hotkeys.
I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think there is a way to quickly cycle between those skills on keyboards, and there might even still be one on the controllers. I’m not 100 percent sure. Basically, quick slot switching, and that’s something more easily implemented on keyboard, for obvious reasons, because you have more buttons within reach. But, truth is that the PC controls are still being tweaked.
Do have a sense of what’s preferred? Do you guys prefer playing with a controller?
No, I personally prefer playing with a mouse and keyboard myself. We’re constantly switching around things, you know, optimizing things. With the controllers we’re pretty much there. There might be some minor tweaks happening after these events according to the feedback we’re getting, but the PC controls, being the keyboard and mouse, you have so many more buttons. There’s so much more variety of what you can do, and we still haven’t found our optimal way. So, we’re still working on that. But we’re fairly confident in that, because most of the people in our company are actually PC gamers themselves, so there’s a personal interest.
I also snooped through the graphics options, because I’m always curious about that. I couldn’t find the resolution option, and I’m wondering if you’ll support arbitrary resolutions with this one, downsampling.
Yeah, we actually have a supersampling option, but that’s really where you need a monster of a computer. We had it in Witcher 2, it was called ubersampling. Arguably, for some players it didn’t make that much of a difference considering the performance costs it put in. Well, everybody familiar with the technology behind it, for supersampling, downsampling images—the changes are all very subtle, but they add to the overall picture. So yeah, we’ll have that. We’ll probably force your computer to its knees.
I bet. Some people like to use it to compose really interesting screenshots and videos—do you know if there’s a way to completely turn off the HUD?
Honestly, right now I don’t recall how powerful it is, but there is a HUD configuration menu... I think, yeah, you can turn off some HUD elements. The cool thing is the way we design our world—because you said you like to take photos with interesting compositions and all that—that’s actually how we approach designing locations. We can anticipate from where a player might access a certain location, right? If you follow the road, then this location will open up in front of you in a certain way where you’ve got a lot of classical image composition techniques being applied, so you know... silhouettes, rule of thirds and everything... that’s why we have so many cool vistas in the game.
With such a big world, how much of it is handcrafted like this, and how much is done with procedural generation tools—you know, dropping foliage here and there?
I think you’d be surprised. There is literally no automatically generated content there.
So everything is placed intentionally?
Yes, everything is hand-crafted. From the cities down to each individual rock you see. It’s a very meticulous and detailed, admittedly long-lasting process of detailing every single location. I think it’s worth it, it also helps making the world look alive. Authentic.
What’s your favorite location in the game?
To be honest, I cannot answer that question. In the main narrative, there is a section where you’ll access some truly unique-looking locations. Those are probably one of my favorites but that would be spoiling the story. If you think back to this interview once we release the game, you will know when you get there. You’ll instantly know, I promise.
So, you have a few more months to work on The Witcher 3. As a level designer, what’s your main job until release?
Yeah, obviously we’re bug fixing, so I’m mostly dealing with location-based bugs. “I got stuck here,” you know, or there’s a piece of floating grass. [Laughs.] Things like that. They can be more extreme, as in trying to get functionality of some certain features to act more smoothly. For example, the whole exploration concept of climbing around on things—[making sure] that the collision is accurate enough that Geralt won’t grab the air but the actual rock, and all these kinds of things.
For me, it’s less on the gameplay functional side, and more on visual cosmetics. Locations are pretty much done, so it’s mostly visual issues. From time to time we’ll encounter something where a quest doesn’t progress because the NPC is not able to walk up that slope or something, but there are no major things that I have to deal with. Most of the stuff is optimizing gameplay and performance.