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How CD Projekt RED brought the complex character of Ciri to life in The Witcher 3

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
(Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon, Queen of Cintra, Princess of Brugge, and Duchess of Sodden had novels of history before players ever met her in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Although we had become well-acquainted with Geralt of Rivia and his supporting cast of men, mistresses, and monsters during the first two games, his adopted sort-of-daughter Ciri had yet to make an appearance, despite her prominence in Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher Saga.

Time is short, even in a 60-plus hour RPG, so the team at CD Projekt Red needed to think carefully about how to introduce Ciri to players elegantly and efficiently. "Ciri has a very rich backstory—a princess, child of Elder Blood, heir to the throne of Nilfgaard, a bandit, a magician," says principal writer Jakub Szamalek in reference to just some of Ciri’s adventures in the Witcher Saga. They couldn’t impart each of these formative stories, Szamalek says, knowing that it would be a deluge of backstory. 

Instead they chose two focuses: her relationship with Geralt and her ability to traverse through space and time. "The former was key to establishing an emotional connection between the player and the character [they were] supposed to chase after for upwards of 60 hours," Szamalek says. "The latter explained Ciri’s special role in the universe and allowed us to make Geralt’s investigation a little bit more mysterious and convoluted." 

(Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

Despite Ciri’s place as the arguable main character of Wild Hunt and the pin on which the plot later turns, Geralt remains the protagonist and, for the majority of the game, the playable character. Sections in which the player takes control of Ciri are few and far between, making them a precious resource for portraying Ciri’s personality outside Geralt’s supervision. "She has a playful, even impish streak Geralt lacks," Szamalek says. "She’s unimaginably powerful, but at the same time struggles with self-doubt and runs away from her fate." Each of Ciri’s scenes had to be layered with complex and often conflicting emotions to get across the literal books of backstory that CD Projekt Red didn’t have time to deliver directly. "Conveying all this to the player—subtly, between verses—was one of the biggest narrative challenges we faced."

Geralt, his on-again, off-again sorceress lover Yennefer, and Ciri together form an unconventional family unit. Although the scene in which Ciri reunites with the group at the witcher keep Kaer Morhen is many players’ favourite for Ciri’s speechless excitement and Yennefer’s uncharacteristic squeal of excitement, Szamalek has another favourite moment.

"I think the scene where Yennefer and Geralt eavesdrop as Ciri’s negotiating with the Lodge of Sorceresses encapsulates their relationship best," Szamalek says, describing the scene where Geralt can choose to accompany Ciri for an important discussion with the powerful sorceresses or allow her to go alone. The tone of the scene changes vastly based on Geralt’s decision. With Geralt present during the discussion, there’s tension in the room accompanied by an eerie soundtrack. If Geralt stays behind, he and Yennefer banter outside the door debating whether to listen in.

"Here, you can see that Yennefer and Geralt respect Ciri’s agency, trust in her, but cannot resist the temptation to check how she’s doing," Szamalek says. "In this brief scene, they are both encouraging and protective, proud of how far she’s gone and anxious to what awaits her. I think any parent will recognise this tension—and I’m very happy that we managed to portray it."

Witcher woman

(Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

One particular callback to Ciri’s adventures in the Witcher Saga shows how CD Projekt Red chose carefully between allusions to past events and full retellings. The rose tattoo on Ciri’s thigh comes up in Wild Hunt during her time at a hotspring with villagers who rescued her from the sea. The player can choose to have Ciri mention that the mark is a memory of someone special who has died but the story is left at that. 

In the Saga, the tattoo is a memento of Ciri’s lover Mistle during her time with a group called The Rats. "There wasn’t really space for unpacking this complex episode in the Wild Hunt—and it’s a shame," Szamalek says. "In this moment of life, Ciri gave in to her darker side, followed her worst instincts. Showing this transition, and the remorse which followed, would have made a great story." Although it’s a shame that Wild Hunt could only afford brief flashes and references to Ciri’s backstory, Szamalek says of Ciri’s time with The Rats, and if we’re thinking wishfully, her other adventures, "Maybe it’s something we’ll get to revisit in the future."

Lauren loves long books and even longer RPGs. She got a game design degree and then, stupidly, refused to leave the midwest. She plays indie games you haven't heard of and will never pass on a story about players breaking games or playing them wrong.