There are few bigger and more satisfying videogame success stories than that of The Witcher: A tiny studio nobody had ever heard of turns a local sex machine/monster hunter into an international superstar, and builds itself into a world-beating industry heavyweight in the process. But long before CD Projekt worked its magic, another studio you've probably never heard of (headed by a guy you likely have) was taking its own crack at it.
Eurogamer ran a story last year about a Witcher-based game being developed in the mid-'90s by Metropolis, a studio headed up by former People Can Fly boss Adrian Chmielarz. The report contained a few stills from the project but nothing else, because all the data—including a working prototype—was thought to have been lost to time.
But it turns out that's not actually the case. YouTube channel arhn.eu recently ran an interview with two other members of the Metropolis team, Kacper Reutt and Jarek Sobierski, who not only have the source code to an old tech demo, but also actually managed to get it to run—something they were spurred to do by a recent documentary about the game's history.
Sobierski explained that the footage seen in the interview is running under emulation so it doesn't look as good as it would on proper hardware from that era, "but at least you can see it works."
As for why Chmielarz wasn't aware of the existence of the source code, it sounds like it was simply a matter of housekeeping (or a lack thereof) and good luck. "To be honest I don't know why they don't have any of the data. I still have it back from the time we worked on this, mostly from home. And I just never deleted it after leaving the company," Sobierski says in the video. (The interview is subtitled in English.)
"Also, once we left Adrian's company, and we both left at the same time, I think the whole project collapsed. I don't remember any information about it being continued. I remember that it was supposed to be suspended, as it turned out it would take at least an extra year or more, before it can ever be released, and the company needed to stay afloat.
Most of the conversations focus on the programming of the game rather than the history of The Witcher, although even for non-programmers such as myself, the "then-vs-now" angle makes it interesting. It ends on a bit of a sad note—after leaving Metropolis and this Witcher game, neither Reutt nor Sobierski ever worked on another game—but even so, it's hard not to see the overall outcome as a happy one: Chmielarz went on to found People Can Fly a few years later, which gave us Painkiller and Bulletstorm, and of course CD Projekt eventually took on The Witcher, which gave us this.