The Witcher 3
is known for its excellent quest design, but game developer CD Projekt Red promises to develop and improve a proven approach in its new project Cyberpunk 2077
At E3 2019, the director of the quest department, Mateus Tomashkevich, told us what he had learned by managing the development of the quests Cyberpunk 2077
, and told what difficulties arise when creating a more non-linear RPG design.
What has changed in your life as a quest director since the announcement of your work on Cyberpunk 2077 ?
Much has changed, I came from the Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
project, and should catch up with the team, understanding all that we have: estimates, goals, and so on. For me, this project is special compared to, for example, The Witcher 3
, because we no longer seek to simply combine a rich branching narrative with an open world - this time we will add a new layer of nonlinearity - gameplay nonlinearity
We add this whole layer associated with the skills that the player chooses during the passage, with the life paths that the player chooses when creating a character. We use all of this in various missions.
You saw that this year we wanted to emphasize precisely this aspect. Therefore, we spent so much time at the exhibition to show everyone that there are different ways of passing missions. You can take advantage of stealth or pave your way with a weapon - choose you.
There are different routes that can be unlocked depending on the skills in which the player has invested his time. There are different phrases in the dialogues, depending on the skills in which the player has invested time, and on his chosen path in life. And all this influenced the design of the game.
What do you think your quest design department learned by implementing quests based on systems that they cannot control?
First, we greatly changed our view on quests and on how we should direct the player, on how to accomplish these missions. In particular, we now not only take into account the possible ways in which a player can go from the point of view of the plot (which was important for us in The Witcher 3
), now we have to think through how to create events and sequences that provide more interesting, diverse paths for different skill sets that players can use. We didn’t do that in The Witcher 3
For example, the battles in The Witcher 3
were like black boxes inserted into the gameplay. It was enough just to create an NPC, and the rest happened by itself. The player just fought with them with swords, signs or bombs, and the result was the same.
At this time, a great relationship is needed between different departments of the studio - with level designers or designers of enukterov. From the point of view of the devices used, we think about how to create a level in such a way that it is interesting and the player understands how to go through it, and also think about how to combine it with a narrative and how to make the system work so that it does not interfere the plot of the game.
Cynics can say that it slows down the workflow.What helped you overcome logistical difficulties when working on this system?
I think that the most difficult thing about this is that different departments had to start working very closely with each other. In Witcher
, the quest designer was the master in his part of the game. He implemented almost everything in this area. He could call it his property — very few could affect us. If the whole level was changed for artistic reasons, it affected our department, but gameplay designers could rarely stop us.
If you work very closely together, then the different parts of the work overlap each other. For example, on the demo shown today, the designer of quests, designers of the invaders and level designers worked together. Therefore, if they do not communicate well with each other when doing their part of the job, then this creates problems for the rest.
Therefore, I believe that the biggest difficulty here is to ensure the correct exchange of information, the joint creation of this part of the game and the desire not to spoil the work of others
. This may seem simple or trivial, but in reality it is not. This requires a lot of effort from all departments.
How often do your departments communicate with each other? Has there been more meetings on schedule, are departments planning to meet on their own to keep up with the work of others?
We tried different approaches. One solution was a daily scheduling. Then at some stage we decided to do them not daily, because otherwise there were too many meetings. In addition, we brought together people from the right departments in the same office to make it easier for them to communicate with each other.
We have weekly meetings where people talk about the problems they face, about the existence of global issues that need to be solved between departments so that we can help them with this. In addition, we motivate people and organize the passage of missions for all departments.
They all gather in the same room, and then go through the entire mission, discuss problems and what they would like to do. We are also taking other measures. The most important of these is the daily communication between departments. We convey to people the idea that every time they change something, it can affect others.
You need to tell them about the changes, even if it turns out to be not important for them. At best, they will notice where problems may arise or important aspects will appear.
I repeat, it sounds banal, but it is not. People tend to think that something should be obvious or not important to others, because they do not see a possible chain of consequences. But when they begin to communicate with other people, it becomes clear - yes, it changes a lot, it is extremely important to tell others about the changes.
Death is still an opportunity for a player in Cyberpunk 2077 to fail, but have you thought about other ways a player can fail and continue to move on? Something similar was a design feature of the desktop Cyberpunk desktop RPG.
In all our projects there is a rule. This rule is always applied to the main storyline - the player cannot fail in the quest because of his choice.
We consider the options chosen as separate results. The only way for a player to fail is to die.
When you begin to design, this rule is quite restrictive. But a rather interesting result follows from it: the game seems to be more organic - we need to think through all the different possibilities and outcomes. This does not seem restrictive, but gives players more freedom of action. This rule creates the feeling that the world reacts to what the player is doing, instead of saying: “don't do that, this is wrong.”
We can allow players to fail side missions, but again we represent this as the outcome of their actions. That is, if a player fails, he does not have to start over, it’s more like the statement “you failed a case.” Suppose you need to accompany someone, and he died on the way. This will have its consequences. Because of this, the game feels more organic and it makes the player think “yes, in the desktop RPG everything would be exactly the same.” The game master does not say: “well, you killed the main NPC and now you need to start the adventure again.” He is trying to look at the situation and think about how to continue the story.
Choice and expressiveness were important attractive points of the game. Quests - this is a tool for game designers, allowing players to better integrate into the world, and at the same time they allow you to express yourself through choices and other game moments. How did you, being a quest designer, adapt to the game a sense of the player’s will and identification with the character?
There are many ways. The most obvious is the dialogue. There are various problems in the game when you interact with various quests and complete them. You may have your own perspective on these issues.
Some of them simply add to the atmosphere, others are important decisions that affect various aspects. When designing quests in our company, there was another rule-recommendation: to make the distinction between these two types as blurry as possible. You have to ask yourself: “will this decision simply add to the atmosphere, or will it have far-reaching consequences?”
According to our observations, if we do this, then the players tend to pay more attention to all the possibilities of choice, because they do not know which of which are important, and which are just cosmetic.
This is the first. The second is that not only the design of the quests itself is important, but the ability to customize the character in the process of passing the game. As I said, in this project we added another layer called “life path”. This is something like the origin of the character. At the beginning of the game when creating a player, the player chooses who he is: a street boy, a corporate servant, or a loner.
These life paths create various advantages and disadvantages throughout the game. For example, when you interact with corporate employees, you know how they behave, you know how to talk to them in order to achieve your goal. But on the streets, as a representative of a corporation, you have no particular advantages.
Cyberpunk is a genre that deals with the concept of transhumanism, wondering about the issues of consciousness and humanity that have gone far beyond our ideas. In the demo, we saw a short-term leap into cyberspace. What tools have proven effective to create a feeling of going beyond what we traditionally consider human?
By itself, the concept of cyberspace in our game is quite interesting, because the general idea is that everyone interacting with cyberspace sees it in its own way. You can imagine that what you see in the demo is how Cyberspace sees Wee (player character). But some other characters, such as Bridget, may see cyberspace quite differently.
The general meaning is that cyberspace is such a vast amount of data for our brain that, in order not to go crazy, to find any meaning in it, it uses familiar symbols, its own knowledge and references. This is one of the approaches. In our quests there are a lot of branches relating to various facets of transhumanism.
And, of course, we show a lot of this through dialogue. We show this through storytelling through environmental storytelling, through the image of the city, through various stories about different characters and how they break borders, and how they move forward, overcoming their human nature.
The cyberpunk entourage in this sense is very unusual and alien to us today - the ease with which people can replace their hands, legs or other parts of the body with cybernetic devices is completely normal for this society. We pay a lot of attention to this topic throughout the game.
For this, we use the standard narrative in various stories. We also have video content that is closely related to this topic, telling how the society works and how normal such things are in it. And, of course, a lot of ads, ads, you could see them in the demo. We created a bunch of content to bring this message to the player.
Our next question is related to this. Perhaps this is beyond the scope of your field of work, but there is one advertisement in the game that has generated particularly active discussions by other developers.
Do you remember this advertisement? A drink ad that says "Mix it up"?
Yes, yes, of course.
We have not yet seen the full character selection screen, he is not ready yet. The department that deals with them said that they had not done it last year. The game will still be made many changes. Did the development team think about giving players a similar choice of characters?
[Approx. trans .: on the ad "Mix it up" shows a transgender.]
And if not, did the team think about the problem of limitations in how players can portray themselves?
Of course. It seems to me that this is a very delicate and important topic. We carefully thought out this aspect. In the finished game, we want to give players as many customization options as possible at the beginning of the game.
For example, we want the player to, for example, use physical features that can be attributed to the male or female gender when creating a character when creating a character.
Or non-binary. The idea is to mix it all up and give players a choice. The same applies to the voice. We wanted to share all this so that players could freely choose. We are still working on it, everything is not as simple as it seems.
Last year, Patrick Millis told us , , , analysis of their own lives and tastes. Do you have similar stories, maybe not related to Cyberpunk and this world, which became the inspiration for the quest?
Personally, I’m mostly inspired by other people's artworks. I watch a lot of movies and play heaps of games, including desktop games, and so on. Of these, I take the bulk of my inspiration. Sometimes real life is much weirder than a fictional situation.
I have had many occasions when I would have been ridiculed if I had offered some situation as a quest for our game.
People would tell me that it makes no sense or this situation could not arise. Sometimes these things become good building blocks from which to build a larger story. I prefer to work with such things like this: I give designers the opportunity to briefly describe the situation in which we are trying to find a grain of something interesting, on the basis of which we can move on. It does not have to be a large and long story, but it must be something memorable, something that can be put into a game.
This is not a specific source of inspiration, but rather a way of gaining inspiration.