Monday, May 23, 2011

Dear developers, believe in yourself!

The Witcher 2 has this moment when you really want to save somebody you really care about. I don't want to get more into the details and spoil it for you. But this moment is a great story-telling moment. Time is of the essence, obviously. But I first needed to complete some side quests.

If you read the last sentence and didn't stop thinking, you played too many of the standard-RPGs in the last decade. The problem in the Witcher 2 was that the story was told so well and was so credible, that this problem became even more apparent.
I stopped playing back then and called it a night. The next morning, after some considerations, I skipped the side quests. I wasn't happy about this, but knew that I had done the right thing.

But most of all, I was condemning the game and its developers that put me into this immersion-breaking situation in the first place. (It's not like doing the side quests first would have had any consequences).
This is unnecessary and diminishes the experience. And ironically it's even more problematic, because the game is as good as it is. I am sure there are ways to tell the story and prevent the situation. In fact, I can think of several ways.
Point is that CD Project didn't seem to care; even though they went to great lengths to otherwise keep the story consistent and often handed in explanations later for why characters acted the way they did!

The developers are no idiots. They are smart guys who wanted to make a great game. And they audaciously did break with several other standards of the genre! It almost seems as if they didn't have the strength to break with even more current absurd rules of RPG creation.

This also applies to the economy. Merchants buy at about one hundredth of the price they sell. However, this is only necessary, because there are chests and boxes and armoires everywhere. And you can freely loot them - even in the presence of their obvious owners. In addition to that you can carry with you immense amounts of stuff. I really don't know why it is even limited in the first place. From a simulation point of view, the limit makes about as much sense as no limit.
And from a gameplay point of view I don't think that deciding what to carry with you is such an interesting decision. Sure, I could calculate the worst money/weight items and sort them out first. But who does that? It's just annoying - especially considering the amount of stuff you needed to check! And how do I actually know the exact prices of the item without haven even spoken to the guy who wants to buy it?

So, we have a lose-lose-lose situation that the developers picked. Merchants need to have ridiculous buy/sell prices, because players have ridiculous weight allowances, which are only necessary, because they can - and at hard difficulty need to - loot everything they see. There's even a "loot all" button, because the developers know that players couldn't care less about what is actually in the chests they loot. The only explanation I have is that the developers copy/pasted this feature from other games. Just like they copy/pasted ridiculous side quests that immensely disturb the immersion into the story.

You can say similar things about the item progression. I could find no credible reason for why merchants later in the game sell better items and enemies drop better items than their earlier counterparts. And it's not necessary to enjoy the game, anyway. Perhaps the developers thought that there are 'achievers' out there for which a credible story doesn't mean much. But how enjoyable can achievement be in a single player game? And would the Witcher 2 be a game for them in first place?
Or they thought that some people are just too dumb to realize how ridiculous the item power progression is. I don't know. Point is that it diminishes my experience; and for what? What do I gain? It wouldn't have been hard to put a few good drops into places that make sense. Like some dungeons that you need to visit. This way you could have some item power progression, but a reasonable one.

I could go on with the traps that make no sense. From a simulation point of view they are laughable and from a gameplay point of view they are annoying. They look like a bad compromise.

Thus, my request for The Witcher 3: Please make a consistent game. This is a great franchise you adopted. I am not a fan of story-focused RPGs (in contrast to open-ended ones), but I really like it! Please find the courage to follow your vision of a credible, immersive experience for a mature and smart audience. I know you cannot be happy with many of the points I mentioned above. Don't listen to the copy/paste guys. Have some trust in yourself and your abilities to make great games!


  1. I grew up with story-focused RPGs and I still love them, as long as they're done in a way that feels immersive and "flowing", with the right amount of challenge and the least amount of petty and stalling mechanics and details.

    What you mention about the vendors "leveling curve" as you yourself level up, has always annoyed me a little - I can see why it's simply not interesting to put a vendor with lvl50 armor in a newbie area, but at the same time it's not a credible world that always caters to the player's exact level / needs. maybe the issue lies altogether in the idea of leveling up and leveling zones..
    you can ofc take that thought further as well and ask why on earth mobs would carry so much trash around or precious items and why vendors would always be willing to buy anything off you, no matter what it is. maybe it's time someone truly thought the whole 'loot concept' over - because loot is not the only motivator in a game, just like too many quests aren't either.

  2. Syl, just do it the credible way. Give merchants in small viallages a smaller collection with fewer wares. Give merchants in big cities more stuff. Put the truly epic stuff into truly epic dungeons.

    Restrict the player's money making capabilities by using credible weight allowances. Do you know why gems are so prominent in fantasy stories? I mean, a full plate mail is mostly worth more when you sell it.

    But the gem you can easily transport, the plate mail you cannot! If an adventurer explores a cave full of undead, he doesn't look forward to selling all the rusty swords to make fortune. It's just not feasible in a good story. Instead, he looks forward to find a gem or some gold - or anything valueable that he can actually transport.

    Make a game like this and half the problems go away. And having to decide what to take with you, instead of what to leave behind, is actually a much more fun and feasible-to-make decision, because you don't have to go through several containers of stuff to find out what has the worst weigth/money relationship.

    On story-focused RPG. I still love the old Elder Scrolls games. Daggerfall or even the very first one. They would put you into a fantasy world and there you were. No, or only little story, but lots of fun to be had. This style of gameplay, btw was also much more accessible. I could just explore a procedurally created dungeon for forever if I wanted to. The best dungeon in The Witcher 2 is in the Dwarven city. It f***ing great! But you are through in about one hour. And there is no reason to come back ever. A shame. I'd buy a game just to explore and endless dungeon like this. Hoping to find this one gem that is worth a fortune.

  3. I always liked it in games if the shops reflected some common sense. On top of that, I found it nice if shops had "specialties" every now and then. This one piece of armour that looks like it will be awesome... but the vendor happens to be where you start out, and you won't be able to afford it until 50 hours into the game. At which point you then come back to the very beginning of the game to revisit.
    It gives you something to look forward to, it gives some credibility to a world in which I don't expect every vendor to be part of ACME franchise INC., supplying everybody around the world with the exact same equipment. Of course, it's also often an obvious way to prolong the gaming experience. But if it's done reasonably well, and not to painful, I think it is a nice touch after all.