“With about 50 hours of dialogue in the main storyline, a script of 450,000 words and 950 characters, it took over two and a half years to finish the whole game,” says Ben Ryalls from Side, who produced, cast, directed, and recorded all the game’s English dialogue. “We visited CD Projekt RED for an intensive prep session in which we were given extensive quest synopses, plot branching maps, images, and videos. The director, the main English writer, and actors would discuss every scene in detail. The writer was always on hand to give more context when needed. The scripts were great, so we had good source material to work from, plus we cast strong performers who could give us the performances it required. James Clyde is a great example: he has credits in theatre, TV, and film, so he brought a lot of experience.”
After dealing with the botchling and, in the process, encouraging the Baron to confront his demons, Geralt is hired to track down his family. His daughter, Tamara, has fled Crow’s Perch to escape her father’s drunken rages and joined the Eternal Fire, becoming a witch hunter. Anna, his wife, is enslaved by witches living in nearby Crookback Bog. Everything comes to a head when the Baron is reunited with his family in the Bog, and the story can end in a number of ways—some of them happy, some really not—depending on Geralt’s actions.
“The challenge with a game like The Witcher 3 is the branching storylines,” says Ryalls. “The directors, actors, and writers really have to work together to hit the right tone for each path a player can take, so that each one gets a performance to match their choices.” In one ending the Baron’s wife dies, and he later hangs himself, torn apart by grief. In another he saves her, and takes her to the Blue Mountains to reverse the crones’ curse. Depending on the ending, Family Matters is either a story of redemption, or a bleak tragedy.
“We started with a very basic idea,” says Sasko. “Geralt meets a baron who wants him to kill a monster, and offers information about Ciri in return.” Sasko designed the events of the quest, and scripted it in the engine, while Karolina Stachyra wrote the dialogue and cutscenes. Then it was tested and approved by the project leads.
“Every area in The Witcher 3 touches a different topic and has a different atmosphere,” says Sasko. “The story of the Baron was designed to reflect the problems of folk living in Velen. In this place there’s war, famine, death, missing people, old rituals, and terrifying monsters. And Family Matters was crafted to contain all of these elements.”
The quest didn’t change much from the first version Sasko designed on paper, but some details changed over time. “The tone of small things were changed and dozens of ideas from the team were incorporated. This is how quests are designed at CD Projekt RED, from the smallest to the biggest. We always go down the same path.”
Family Matters is one of the best RPG quests I’ve played in years. It takes very real, important subjects—alcoholism and domestic abuse—and deals with them in a brutal, heartbreaking, and honest way. But, thanks to the blood-curdling botchling, it still feels like part of The Witcher’s dark fantasy world. It’s superbly written, brilliantly acted, and the branching paths make it well worth replaying. It’s The Witcher 3 and developer CD Projekt RED at their absolute best, and was the highlight of the game for many players.
“It’s amazing to hear that people love Family Matters,” says Sasko. “That is, hands down, the best reward I could ever imagine to get for my work. Our lead writer, Marcin Blacha, said once that he doesn’t like stupid games, and I think that’s the reason for The Witcher 3’s success. We respect the player’s intelligence. We treat videogames as a medium for adults, to tell mature stories. Our ambition is to touch on issues that have never been tackled by games before, but tastefully, and with respect for the subject.”